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Down on luck?

March 01 2019
Helpful: Resilient project © Groundswell Helpful: Resilient project © Groundswell

How building resilience can help you feel better. Intro from Groundswell’s Mental Health Project Manager, Oliver Hall

How building resilience can help you feel better. Intro from Groundswell’s Mental Health Project Manager, Oliver Hall

Poor mental health is everywhere at the moment: on the news, in mags – even the Royals are taking an interest. Sadly, for many it’s not a flavour-of-the-moment media opportunity, it’s a harsh and unforgiving illness that’s controlling people’s lives.

I was given a leaflet the other day. “Have you tried cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?” it asked in shouty lettering.  That’s when it really hit home just how much of an issue mental health is becoming in this country; even the Government claims that £1.4 billion pounds has been invested over the past three years. In this age of austerity, where everyone is under so much pressure to work and provide, we seem to have overlooked the fact that we aren’t designed to exist under such stress. It’s not good for our wellbeing and could explain why we are seeing so many people becoming unwell with anxiety, depression and complex mental health conditions.

So, what are we going to do? In 2008 the Government’s Foresight project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing commissioned the New Economics Foundation (NEF)  to develop a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing in the UK for the benefits of society and the individual.

NEF boffins came up with 5 ways to wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give (see box p10). These seem sensible suggestions, but how useful are they to someone sleeping rough or temporarily housed and having to navigate the benefits system? And are they really things that can help us to look after our mental health and wellbeing?

At Groundswell, where we are piloting the Building Resilience Project, guided by the Mental Health Foundation’s 10 ways to wellbeing, we think the answer is probably yes, but only if a slightly different approach is taken when using them to make the information more accessible.

For starters there is an inequality of advice and guidance when it comes to wellbeing. The advice seems to be pitched at a group assumed to be housed, financially stable and with a baseline of healthy-living knowledge.

Groundswell has been visiting day centres and hostels, and delivering sessions on sleep, diet and exercise, whilst keeping in mind the core ideas of the ways to wellbeing developed by NEF and the Mental Health Foundation. That’s when we noticed that for many people who are insecurely housed, mental health is seen as something that we associate with illness and bad luck, when in reality it’s a part of us that needs looking after in the same way that we brush our teeth or get our eyes tested. If we don’t pay it attention, our mental health begins to deteriorate and we become unwell.

As the Building Resilience Project has continued, we have begun to notice people seeing the connection between their actions and choices and how this affects their overall health and wellbeing. Most importantly, we are seeing how relationships, communication and a feeling of being part of something bigger, benefits our mental wellbeing in ways we don’t always acknowledge.

In a nutshell

2014: 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety and depression; a 1.5% increase from 2013. (Source: Mental Health Foundation).

In England 1 million people contacted adult mental health services in Dec 2017.

Five ways to wellbeing:
1. Connect: with the people around you, family, friends, and colleagues.
2. Be active: go for a walk, a run, or discover a physical activity that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
3. Take notice: be curious, catch sight of the beautiful and remark on the unusual.
4. Keep learning: try something new, rediscover an old interest or sign up for that course.
5. Give: do something nice for a friend, or volunteer your time. (New Economics Foundation)

Groundswell’s Building Resilience Project will encourage and identify ways that people who are homeless can be healthy, physically and mentally well, gain useful life skills and knowledge, build our confidence and cope with life’s challenges.

Basic changes to make you feel better

Sleep: Pay attention to how well you sleep, develop a routine and identify what is interrupting your sleep patterns; is there anything you can do to improve it? Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep.

Diet: Reduce your sugar and caffeine intake, try to vary your diet if you can, think moderation and variety.

Keep active: Develop a routine, go for a walk, and use the stairs if able. Find an activity that will get you moving.

Make changes: Think about what’s stressing you out, what can you do about it? Small changes lead to big changes. This is especially true when thinking about sleep, diet and keeping active.

Ask for help: If you are really struggling with your mental health don’t suffer in silence. Book an appointment to see the GP, take a friend if you need support.  You may also need medication or input from a counsellor.