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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is between the 10th to the 16th of May this year. This year we invited Charlotte Banks, a member of our specialist Bike team and a keen advocate of mental health, to discuss her insight into the importance of mental health. In the first of a three-part series this week, Charlotte discusses the impact of Covid-19 and what mental health week is about.

As a keen advocate of mental health and wellbeing, I wanted to discuss what this week is about, the theme, and what I have been doing outside of work for the last year or two to increase awareness of mental health and help fight the stigma that surrounds it.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a week dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness and its focuses include; depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, mental breakdowns, and eating disorders. The week’s focus is to encourage and allow people to join the fight to eradicate stigma. This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is nature.

The impact of Covid-19

I don’t think this has come as any surprise given we haven’t had much else to focus on in the last year! Some recent research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation has shown us that millions of people coped with the stress of the pandemic by getting out into nature and -let’s face it – there weren’t a great deal of other coping strategies out there for us! More people than ever are out walking, running, picnicking and even our date nights are now usually ‘Date days’ out in nature. Still not sure how I feel about Go Ape over being wined and dined to be honest……

Prior to the pandemic fewer people thought of the mental health benefits of being in nature and the physical benefits also associated. Although I have always loved some of my nearby beauty hot spots such as Bakewell, Chatsworth and Matlock, I was never much of a keen gardener until lockdown 1.0 when I suddenly became Alan Titchmarsh, and I am now a keen grower of fruit and veg!

How ironic that the day after Mental Health Weekends we reach the next stage of our coming out of lockdown journey, which I would hope means that some pandemic related mental health issues can start to recover as we step out into our new normal. For some, of course, the ending of lockdown sparks anxiety as this is again, yet more change.

You can find out more about research that has been conducted by the Mental Health Foundation and also fundraising ideas should you wish to get involved here https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

I am passionate about encouraging open discussions about mental health and fighting some of the stigmas that surround our mental wellbeing. I am educating myself as much as possible with a focus on effective ways of managing it, especially in times such as these where we have all experienced a very significant, and for many people, life-changing year. Grief, loneliness, work/job loss stress, and home schooling-stress to name just a few of the upheavals.

Recent studies by the Office of National Statistics have confirmed that the number of people suffering moderate to severe depression has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Depression is more than simply feeling a little bit down and at times it takes a diagnosis from a medical professional for a person to even realise they are depressed to such an extent.

The main symptoms are burnout/no energy, an overwhelmed feeling, ‘brain fog, concentration and memory issues, restlessness, agitation, isolating behaviours, negative thoughts, sleep issues, eating changes (more or less) and no interest in hobbies or even other people. In the workplace, you might notice a usually chatty or outgoing person has become withdrawn and quiet or a high/consistent performer begins to perform at a slower or lesser rate. They might be irritable and be reluctant to attend social events.

In part 2 I discuss my own personal journey with mental health and how I lend my time to the Samaritans, click here, or for part three, click here.