Mind the gap

It is Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. The theme is Mindfulness. These thoughts occur:

  1. Mindfulness is a very helpful practice for those who can use it. But it won’t work for everyone, particularly if you are severely depressed or agitated. Seek advice from your GP or a therapist if you are unsure. And don’t believe everything you read about it on the internet – good or bad.

  2. Mindfulness grew from the Buddhist tradition of meditation. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to use it. But in my experience, embracing some of the aspects of Buddhism, particularly loving kindness, really helps.

  3. Mindfulness is like any exercise. It  requires frequent, regular, focussed practice. Practice won’t make you perfect, but it will help you improve. As with physical exercise, I find myself making excuses not to do it, but usually feeling better when I have.

  4. Becoming more mindful isn’t just about the allocated meditation period. You will gradually carry the increased serenity achieved through the meditation into your other activities and interactions. For me, this includes listening more carefully, eating more slowly, and appreciating loveliness in small things that would otherwise pass me by.

  5. You don’t have to go to a class or retreat, but a short course will undoubtedly help you develop the discipline to practice. There are Mindfulness CDs and books to get you started. Here is a good local resource in Sussex with links to other sites.

  6. Some people think Mindfulness is a panacea to make us more passive and accepting of bad things that happen to us. It isn’t. It is an exercise that helps us focus on what matters and become more effective in tackling personal and political challenges.

  7. People who teach Mindfulness do not sit in judgement of those who do not. Nor do they advocate it as an alternative to prescribed medication for mental illnesses. Far from it.

  8. Mindfulness can help people with no history of mental illness, as well as those (like me) who need help to stabilise our mood, lift depression and assist us to take control in our own recovery. It is powerful because it helps us manage our own negative thoughts. I use it in combination with what I have learned through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and other psychological insights gained through therapy.

  9. My current negative thoughts include worrying that I am too psychologically weak to manage to come off my antidepressant medication. I hasten to add that I am doing so under clinical supervision. Today is my 2nd no tablet day for 18 months. My Mindfulness practice this morning was about recognising my own strengths, and counting my blessings such as having a loving family and a sympathetic, skilled GP. Plus accepting the temporary side-effects (feeling swimmy-headed and a bit fragile) as a necessary cost to achieving my goal. And reminding myself that if/when I need meds again, it won’t be a sign of moral weakness.

  10. Mindfulness based therapy can be extremely useful for people who hear voices – voices that may or may not be symptoms of psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia. Some of my ex-colleagues wrote this lovely self-help book about using Mindfulness and CBT to manage such troubling voices.

  11. One of the inequities of our health system is that people who would  benefit from effective, life-saving and life-changing psychological therapies do not always receive them. Imagine the furore if there were cancer treatments that were known to work but were only offered to a small percentage of those who would benefit. Now that I am a free agent, I am campaigning to improve access to the right mental health treatments. And as I said last year, I can be difficult to ignore.

  12. If you are one of the 75% of the population who didn’t vote for the new government last week, you may describe how you are feeling at the moment as depressed. Some people will point out that this isn’t clinical depression. I don’t personally mind what you call it (see my last blog). I simply note that Mindfulness might help you focus on what to do now so that you don’t feel the same way in 2020.

So why not give Mindfulness a try?

Happy mental health awareness week!