It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week and following what has been a challenging and unprecedented year for our community, the theme from The Mental Health Foundation this year is ‘Nature’. During the pandemic, reconnecting with nature has provided comfort and solace to many and the simple pleasures and benefits that being in nature can have on both our physical and mental health are significant. This year’s theme fits well with the “Be Active”, “Take Notice” and “Care for the Planet” aspects of the Six Ways to Wellbeing, which we have referenced in our articles previously (westkentmind.org.uk/six-ways-to-wellbeing). There are many ways we can immerse ourselves in nature, from going for a mindful walk, gardening and bird-watching to taking up a hobby such as nature photography. You don’t need any fancy equipment or training, just a keen eye and some enthusiasm. We recently launched a new group called “My Mind’s Eye Photography”, mindful photography sessions aimed at reconnecting participants with the world around them. Paul Sanders, who runs the sessions for us, has kindly agreed to share his story with our readers.
“It has long been thought that getting into nature was good for you, but in Japan it is a known fact; originating in the 1980s, the practice of Shinrin-yoku – which literally means “Forest Bathing” – has been scientifically proven to aid mental wellbeing, and lower blood pressure and heart rate. For me, the practice of spending time in nature and then photographing and writing about my experience, whether under the canopy of a forest or by the coast, has a calming and regenerative effect. Just breathing in the air in these environments has a cleansing effect. The wonderful thing about photography in nature is that every time you look at the images you are reminded of the experience and the calming effect. Some of my images are used by both NHS and Private hospitals to decorate walls of wards where seriously ill people are being cared for, as it is understood to aid recovery and mood.
My mental health has been very poor in past years, especially when working in a highly pressured environment, but since changing my role to one where I am largely in the open air appreciating the beauty and imperfections in nature, I can honestly say that bringing my love of photography in nature has been a huge aid in my recovery”
We have also been talking to some of our valued staff, supporters and clients to ask why campaigning for Mental Health Awareness is important to them.
Lorraine Gibbs, Community Partnership Manager at West Kent Mind tells us, “When I feel under pressure, stressed, anxious or worried I talk to someone I know I can trust, someone who listens. This helps me get through the difficult days. That is why I think it is important to fight for mental health awareness”. This human connection forms the basis of many of the therapeutic groups that Lorraine and her team run with our clients. Creating a space where it is safe and supportive to talk openly with groups of like-minded people is vital to support the mental health of people who would otherwise feel isolated.
The benefits of exercise on our mental health and wellbeing are well-documented. We spoke to James Blanchard, owner of FORM Personal Training, Sevenoaks, and West Kent Mind supporter:
“This Mental Health Awareness Week I’ll be fighting the stigma that still exists around mental health. Stigma thrives in the darkness, so I’ll be having open conversations about mental health with my clients, friends and family. For many of us (myself included) the pandemic has at times not been kind to our mental health. Now we’re able to communicate face to face a bit more, what better time to talk about how we’re feeling and what we’ve perhaps been struggling with? Since we know the potential benefits of exercise on our mental health, why not grab a buddy and combine a chat with a training session?”
It has been a challenging year for our community and someone who has witnessed the impact on our high streets and independent businesses is Jess Gibson, Founder and Director of the TN Card. Jess launched the TN Card just before lockdown began in 2020 and has tirelessly worked to support the independent businesses who were forced to shutter their shops and come up with new and innovative ways to trade. The TN Card supports West Kent Mind with 10% of all membership sales being donated to us. Jess tells us: “Fighting for mental health is important to me because it affects us all. Many of us have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic or know a loved one who is struggling. Through the TN card I’ve seen first-hand the impact of the past year on both members and partners alike, and how important it is to have support networks in place. We all need to know that there is help out there, and to reach out to those around us.”
We love hearing how people in our community support their own mental health and that of others and are hugely indebted to those living and working in West Kent for supporting us and enabling us to continue our vital work. There are many ways that you can support what we do – share your story with us, connect with us on social media, fundraise or donate or attend one of our training courses or workshops to help increase awareness and understanding. In return, we are here for you. If you need support, then please do get in touch. We are here to listen.
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