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Talking about mental health

I think it’s great that mental health problems are moving away from being a topic of shame but are we in danger of becoming obsessed? Just as we are what we eat, also we are what we think.

Whenever anyone starts talking about nits, I find myself wildly scratching my head and I have noticed a similar reaction amongst my teenage daughter and her peers around the subject of mental health.

As a yoga teacher and long time practitioner, I am all for self reflection and awareness, but I do think it is dangerous to label yourself as depressed, socially anxious or simply as having mental health problems without knowing what this means or receiving help and support.

Let me explain what I mean. We all have mental health. It describes our state of physical and mental wellbeing. It is okay to have negative thoughts and it is the normal reaction of the central nervous system to throw us into fight or flight response to protect us from danger. It is how we deal with thoughts and how we manage our nervous system that is important. We are able to help ourselves but we also need to be aware that sometimes we need professional guidance and or medication.

Having lost her Dad to cancer at the age of 8, my daughter is no stranger to difficult feelings and nervous system responses. Unfortunately some of the talk around mental health awareness resulted in her labelling herself as having ‘social anxiety’.

Actually like myself she is introverted. This doesn’t mean she is socially awkward or unable to make friendships, it means that she needs time alone to recharge her battery and the fact that she enjoys this is not a negative thing at all. Luckily I am able to explain how the central nervous system works, how her teenage brain is developing and that she Is good enough. Now when she identifies that she needs and wants to spend time alone, she excuses herself by saying her ‘social battery‘ is running low, I have seen many adults impressed by this level of self-awareness and she has shaken off the negative socially anxious label and improved her wellbeing.

Worryingly she also tells me that in the teenage community, mental health problems are becoming cool “it gets you attention“. She has also expressed concerns to me that she has been told that people who are depressed and anxious self-harm and are likely to attempt suicide. This set off a ‘nits’ type reaction and planted a worry that she previously hadn’t had. Again luckily she is able to talk to me about this.

Mental health is a massive problem and becoming more so. I do think more needs to be done, but I worry that there is too much talk and not enough action and that the focus is on either stories where there has been a tragic outcome or where the survivor is heroic.

I would like to see us educate ourselves about ourselves. If we understand our own minds, bodies and emotions then we can learn about who we are as our unique individual selves and to do what WE need to do to stay well not conform to what society believes we should do or who we should be.

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