How to look after your mental health this winter

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 11:27 am
Updated Thursday, 25th November 2021, 11:27 am
Escape the gym and get out into the great outdoors on one of these inspiring Leeds running routes (Photo: Shutterstock)

Tips for keeping your mental health in good shape

Darker days and longer nights can bring a salvo of perennial challenges especially for our mental health.

However enticing cosy nights in may be, there is no getting away from the fact that fewer daylight hours and inclement weather may mean low mood for many.

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So the findings of a recent study identifying how people can protect their mental health came at just the right moment.

Spending time in green spaces, getting better sleep and avoiding illicit drugs are among the recommendations to emerge from the research by the Mental Health Foundation.

Avoiding unmanageable debt and prioritising fun are also up there, alongside learning to understand and manage your mood.

Staying curious and open to new experiences, and speaking to someone you trust for support play their part.

A healthy diet; physical activity; strengthening social connections; and practicing gratitude and cultivating hope will also help people to protect their mental health, according to the study.

Other things that can help are getting support for good parenting practices, and helping others, contributing to something bigger.

While poor mental health can show little regard for people’s financial circumstances or living arrangements, not all are equal when it comes to putting these precepts into practise.

The study acknowledges that some of its recommendations will be harder to follow for many people because of influences beyond their control, such as living in poverty or in places with heavy traffic noise and lack of green space.

“We know that the means to practice this advice are not readily available to everyone,” said Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation.

“For example, poverty, low education and isolation may mean that for some individuals, it is not possible to avoid unmanageable debt.

“Now that we have this clear evidence, governments should take action that empowers people to better look after their own mental health.”

He also attacked the notion of ‘miracle cures’.

“Our research shows that it’s the fundamentals of life that protect our mental health: our finances, our relationships and our experiences,” said Dr Kousoulis.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen a powerful wellness industry taking advantage of people’s vulnerability to offer ‘miracle cures’ in exchange for improved well-being. Our evidence challenges the notion that this is what most people want.

“The majority of people in our study, with the hindsight of their experience of poor mental health, told us that getting some support to avoid illicit drugs and unmanageable debt, to sleep better and to regulate their emotions, is what would have made the biggest difference to them.”

Getting better sleep can help to protect your mental health, the study found (Credit: Shutterstock)

The Mental Health Foundation research is thought to be the first ever to draw on a combination of mental health research evidence, experts’ views and public opinion, in order to generate the best advice for use in public mental health advertising.

The study began by asking 23 international experts to suggest what individuals can do to maintain good mental health, and to outline the basis for their suggestions.

All the experts had strong and proven expertise in relation to anxiety and depression, which are common mental health problems.

Members of the public who participated in the study were shown the 14 suggestions that experts rated most highly for their usefulness in protecting mental health.

They were asked to rate each one according to its usefulness and applicability to their own lives.Of the 14 ‘expert’ suggestions, eight were chosen by at least half of the public participants as “very” or “extremely” useful and applicable.

Most of the 1,447 members of the public who took part had past or current experience of problems with their mental health.

Some of the study’s suggestions found more favour among the expert participants than among the members of the public, including taking exercise, eating a healthy diet and drinking alcohol in moderation.

Depression

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one in six adults experienced some form of depression in summer 2021.

While this number had fallen since the early part of the year, it was still above pre-pandemic levels.

Commenting on the figures at the time of their release, head of the Policy Evidence and Analysis Team at the ONS, Tim Vizard, noted: “Younger adults, women and disabled people are more likely to experience some form of depression, along with the unemployed and those unable to afford an unexpected expense.”

For research and support for good mental health visit  www.mentalhealth.org.uk