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Why is there such a stigma around mental health? One in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder. Yet, nobody seems to want to talk about it.

When I first started writing my blog I was hiding something from you. It wasn’t because I wanted to deceive you. It was because I was scared of how I would be viewed if I shared it. I feared I would be judged and that potentially there would be implications of putting my story ‘out there’. See, I was working in a corporate environment in a job considered to be ‘high pressure’ and sadly there is such a stigma around mental illness that many people think if you’ve ever suffered with depression you will never cope with stress.

Frankly, I know that to be complete bullsh*t.

The stress of work was never the thing that depressed me. In fact, one of the greatest periods of growth in my career came at a time when my depression was hitting me hard. It was a time when I was heavily dosed up on anti-depressants, to the point that being late taking my tablets would give me physical symptoms of withdrawal. It was hard to get out bed, but when I was in the ‘work zone’ I was incredibly productive.

I recently read some research, released by Bupa to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, that revealed how half of all employees have never been asked about stress, depression or anxiety in a 1-2-1 with their manager. This is despite more than three quarters (76%) of business leaders believing they actively encourage managers to address and support employees’ mental health.

I have to be honest and say that even if I had been asked about these things at work I would’ve lied. I was simply too afraid of the stigma associated with mental illness and that in the macho workplace culture I sometimes experienced, I would have labelled me a ‘wimp’ or a ‘pussy’.

It is not easy for me to write about this.

I may have found ways to overcome my depression and get clean from prescription drugs (and the “self-medication”) but I can still be fearful about sharing my battle with depression.

That is exactly why I decided to write this.

Mental illness is no different to physical illness and we need to stop the stigma. I can’t say things need to change without being willing to be a part of that change myself.

How to Beat Depression and Anxiety

There are no doubt many factors that helped me overcome the mental illness that plagued my life for years, but here are a few key points that I believe made a huge difference:

  • Move your body – you are not designed to sit in a chair all day. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that physical activity purges the blood of a substance which accumulates during stress and can be harmful to the brain. Their research suggests cardiovascular exercise probably has the biggest impact on mood and reducing stress. For me this involves running and I find running in nature is especially beneficial to clearing my head. If you don’t like running then cycling, walking or rebounding are all great alternatives.
  • Eat less crap – a study published in Public Health Nutrition journal revealed that consumers of fast food are 51% more likely to develop depression when compared to those who eat little or none and according to Dr Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, lead author of the study, “the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression”. In the past I never would have believed the link between food and mood, but my personal health journey leaves me in no doubt that what we eat affects not just out physical health, but our mental health too.
  • Mindfulness and gratitude – you cannot be grateful and depressed at the same time. Making time each day to be mindful about your life and appreciate all you have to be grateful for shifts your focus to the positives in your life. Even simple things, like being grateful that the sun is shining, being grateful for a hug from a loved one or being grateful that you are able to read this. Gratitude is the antidote to fear, anxiety and depression. Practice it daily and you will see your life change.

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