Meet Anna Williamson: World Mental Health Day on 10 October

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World Mental Health Day

Campaigner Anna Williamson supports World Mental Health Day on 10 October

Read the full version of our interview with Anna, as featured in the latest issue of Boundless magazine.

Is there a rise in the instance of mental health issues or are we just talking about it more?

“It’s a combination of the two. An increase in awareness in the media is a good thing, and then people are disclosing how they’re feeling. Previously people tended to keep feelings to themselves, locked in this sort of hell, but now we can a lot more easily recognise, diagnose and understand how mental health issues can present and manifest.

“Life in general is becoming more stressful, for people in cities the work-life balance is being tested more than ever. The pressure to have it all and do it all, have a career, be a family person, keeping up with friends, peers, earning money, is a huge area for causing mental health challenges. Life is getting more complicated and pressured, we are talking about it more in the media, which is why perhaps we are feeling like there is an epidemic at the moment.”

How can people avoid being under such stress /pressure? What steps could people take on a basic level?

“Recognise what parts of your life are needing a bit more attention in order to reduce stress levels. We tend to live in this cycle in life where we have this pressure which we put on ourselves, where we measure ourselves against other people’s success and what they might be doing with their life. The problem with that is that we are going at it hammer and tongs without actually asking ourselves, ‘Is this pace, is what I am doing right now, OK for me? Does this work for me and my lifestyle? And the person that I am.’

“I always say in my private work, never measure yourself against anybody else. Somebody that can survive on four hours sleep and take on massive deadlines or whatever – that might work for one person but you will never be the same if you compare yourself to somebody else. Have the inner self confidence to know your limits, know your boundaries, and assert them because this is actually what works best for me.

“What I would say in a nutshell, is don’t be afraid to recognise and be proud of who you are, of what you can and can’t tolerate. Everyone’s stress levels are different, and if you are susceptible to stress you know you need to take more care of yourself.”

As a nation are we not very good at self care?

“We are a nation that is very ambitious, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we have lost the ability to really enjoy rest and relaxation time, and quality family time. We need to have a hard look at ourselves and how we look after our health – stress and all the physical illnesses that come off the back of that life in this country. When we look at how other nations work, they do give themselves a bit more self care.

“They really do value having rest in the afternoon, and family time, they don’t just have a quick 20-minute pasta salad at your desk, that's unheard of. You have a proper three-hour lunch. With that, stress levels are much reduced. Look and ask what is working for us. And I think in this country, we have so much opportunity, which is amazing, but sometimes that can also be a bit of a curse.”

Mental health advice

What should we all be looking out for in our friends and colleagues, family members as signs of mental health issues?

“Irritability. Certain personality traits can change. Someone who is perhaps more easy-going, quite happy-go-lucky, if you notice them starting to become quite irritable, quite anxious, quite tetchy, quite quiet, or removing themselves from social situations, that is perhaps a sign that all is not well, so there will quite often big signs like that. Perhaps not wanting to socialise so much, or displaying out of character behaviour, perhaps they are spending more time at their desk, perhaps they’re not coming into work as much. Coming in late, or whatever it might be; just look for out of character behaviour.

“And also just asking someone if they’re ok and stopping for the answer, and really letting that person know that you genuinely are there for them. To talk to you. Not just a fleeting, “Alright?” An actual “Are you ok, I’ve noticed that you’re not X, Y, Z. And you’ll often find that the response is a good indication of what is going on with that person. And you may get “Actually I have been under a bit of stress recently, because X, Y, Z has happened, but I’m ok, or you may find that they are seriously stressed out and need some actual help. Personality and behavioural changes in someone will give you a clue as to what they’re going through.”

What activities and events looking out for on Mental Health Day in October?

“At the moment I’m not sure what has been planned, but Mental Health Awareness Week has become a really big deal, and Mind do an awful lot around Mental Health Awareness Week. There's also the I Am Whole campaign, they do a lot of events and social media awareness around that time. So there are a lot of things to get involved in – essentially a lot of it is awareness, just look around you and the impact that mental health has on you and your family – it’s a great opportunity overall really to put that spotlight on our own mental health, to ask ourselves what can I do to ensure that my mental and emotional wellbeing is as good as it can be.”

Three things to have in your toolkit, if you’re worried about mental health, to incorporate into everyday life

“1. Me time is really important. To try and get some space, in your day to just stop. We’re all so busy motoring along and if it isn’t one thing it’s another. It’s relentless. It’s important to just stop. Take a pause and say to yourself I need to sit, maybe practise mindfulness, deep breaths, focus, be in the moment, allow the pace of your day to day life to halt for a moment. That can be very helpful.

“2. Digital detox. Mental health and emotional wellbeing take an enormous bashing and are really challenged by being on social media, just by being ‘On’. Being contactable. I turn every device I have off at 9.00, that’s it. It’s cathartic, and it’s just gives your mental health as well as physically a chance to switch off and relax. And that is super important to allow our brain and minds to rest.

“3. Know yourself. Ask yourself questions. No one knows you better than you know yourself, even though it might not feel like that. But if you are feeling in any way like you are not enjoying things, in a prolonged fashion. It’s ok to have the odd down day, we all have that, but if it starts to creep into weeks, even months where you’re just not feeling right, what you would call yourself, your version of your normal, don’t be afraid and always go and ask for a second opinion. Go and see a doctor or contact a charity like Mind, to symptom check, to have a think about if it is anything more than just having a bit of an off time.”

Anna Williamson mental health expert

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