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Healthy Town: Looking after our mental health

The 2018 Pfizer Healthy Town initiative focuses on the mental, as well as physical, health of Wexford Town with talks, advice and support

Recognising the importance of looking after our mental health is vital to our quality of lives, and that of a community - and this is why the Pfizer Healthy Towns programme focuses on the mental as well as the physical health of participants.

Dr Harry Barry will be giving a talk to the people of Wexford on October 10th to highlight the importance of recognising when our mental health needs addressing.

“Healthy Towns is a wonderful initiative because it encourages us to see mental health not just as an individual personal issue but one for all of us in the community,” he says. “We all are vulnerable at different stages in our lives to episodes of stress, anxiety and depression - so we must, as a community, be there for one another and the first step is information; the second is support for each other when one of us is in trouble.”

John Saunders, director of See Change and Shine agrees: "The Healthy Town initiative addresses many of the factors which can affect people's mental health," he says. "If people live in a town that's appropriate to their needs, they will feel the benefits it has on their quality of life. Research shows that densely populated areas which have poor housing, traffic congestion and few community spaces often have higher numbers of people with mental health difficulties.

“And the unfortunate thing about this is that many people who experience a mental health difficulty migrate to cities for the sense of anonymity if gives them  largely due to stigma and fears of discrimination. In many ways people feel it is harder to disclose a mental health difficulty in a smaller community where ‘everyone knows each other’.

“But we know from our work in Shine that when people who experience mental health difficulties come together to work on a project, whatever it may be, they naturally receive support from that group. People innately want to connect. Socialising and coming together due to a common interest has great benefits.”

Dr Barry, author of Emotional Resilience - how to safeguard your mental health, and Anxiety and Panic - how to reshape your anxious mind and brain, says we need to understand as a people, the critical difference between our logical and emotional mind and brain.

“It is our emotional brain that rules our lives in the main,” he explains. “When we are in difficulties from a mental health perspective, our emotional mind swamps the more rational mind, if we are keeping it to ourselves. “So when we either talk about our difficulties or write them down and talk about them, the rational brain can now assist us to make sense of what is going on for us at that moment in our lives. It is also the problem-solving part of the brain and allows us to focus more on the solution than the problem.

“Many assume that we must always seek the assistance of an expert. But often speaking to someone, anyone, even if a stranger, can begin the journey of recovery. So, open your heart to someone with whom you feel empathy and your load will be instantly lightened.”

John Saunders also says communication is key: “I’m reminded of that old adage - ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’,” he says. “It may seem quite simple, but the act of disclosing a problem, talking about it and relating to another person can have a huge positive effect on people’s mental health. People may not come up with a solution to the issue there and then, but there’s a great sense of relief in having our difficulties heard and sounding them out with another person. Talking in itself, socialising with other people, has been shown to have benefits for mental health.

“Through our work with See Change, which seeks to end mental health stigma, we know that talking about mental health is one of the main ways we can reduce stigma. When we are exposed to people’s experiences of mental health difficulties, we begin to understand them better and relate to a person as another human being as opposed to a diagnosis.”

Saunders says the main sign that someone is affected by a mental health issue is significant and sudden changes in their life pattern.

“Someone who usually sleeps very well may all of a sudden find it extremely difficult to sleep or may be experiencing poor quality of sleep,” he says. “They could be more worried than usual or there could be significant changes in their behaviour, they may begin to isolate themselves, where once they would have been very sociable.

“Some people may begin to drink more or take drugs. They might be showing unusual amounts of anger, which is viewed as the negative side of fear. Any very clear and apparently sudden shifts in behaviour are signs that someone may be experiencing a difficulty.”

The mental health expert says ‘meaningful and gainful activity’ can be of great benefit to mental health.

“Getting together with family and friends, being part of a sports team, volunteering in the community with other like-minded people are all things we can do that have a positive influence on mental health,” he says.

“Also, exercise and looking after our physical health can have great benefits and eating nutritious food as part of a balanced diet is very important too.”

For more information, visit seechange.ie
For more on Healthy Town, see www.facebook.com/HealthyTownIreland