Anxiety, sleep deprivation and exercise levels all impact our mental health – but positive changes and simple coping strategies can make all the difference, as visitors to Middlesex University's Mental Health Awareness Week activities discovered.
The programme of events, led by the University's Department of Mental Health, Social Work and Integrative Medicine, revolved around 'mindfulness' – a central theme for the nation-wide Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, now in its 15th year.
"Mindfulness is being in the moment, not stuck in the past or future," said Justin McDermott, lecturer in mental health at Middlesex.
"Mindfulness helps people observe the way they think and feel about their experiences, which in turn can help them manage stress and stay mentally healthy. Spending just ten minutes a day focusing your attention on the present moment can drastically reduce stress and anxiety."
The response to this year's event, McDermott says, was "overwhelming" from students, staff and community members alike. "For a university to lead and involve the local community in projects like this is so important for education and discussion on topics," he said. "We had students, staff and the public all debating current issues in a forum where people can think and express in safety."
Daily advice sessions on mindfulness were a key part of Mental Health Awareness Week at Middlesex; participants were also encouraged to join free yoga, pilates and swimming classes, take lunchtime walks and morning jogs, and discover new relaxation techniques with the team from the University's Park Clinic. Psychology and mental health specialists from across the university came together to discuss topics including social connectedness, relationship building, psychoanalysis, motivation, depression in young people and compassion.
A highlight of this year's event line-up was a candid session with television and radio writer Ivor Baddiel as he examined how his relationships with his family impacted on his life. Baddiel sat down with Fiona Starr, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor at Middlesex, and spoke openly about battling with mental health issues in the past, and the steps he has taken to overcome these issues. He also highlighted the urgency for changing perceptions surrounding mental illness, calling for openness, understanding and acceptance.
"I did the event [at Middlesex] to show that mental illness can be just that, an illness; something you suffer from for a period of time and then recover from, fully, just like many other illnesses. Indeed, it can also be a beneficial experience and one that, ultimately, you can learn from such that you go on to have a better, more fulfilling life," Baddiel said.
"Unfortunately though, this view is still not the majority, mainstream view, which continues to stigmatise mental illness, as I experienced recently when I was rejected for jury service because of an 'illness' I had over 25 years ago."
Images, top to bottom: ARTiculate art sessions encouraging mental wellbeing in young people; Middlesex staff enjoying a lunchtime walk as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.