In July of this year, the Mental Health Foundation launched a week long campaign raising awareness on mental health focusing on the theme of Mindfulness. As defined by the MHF, ‘Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, without getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future’. Although a recent hot topic in the field of Western psychology today, Mindfulness itself is not anything new, where its uses date back to ancient practices more commonly found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, Yoga and Taoism.
As a mini experiment, I as ked a handful of friends what images they thought of when asked to think about the term Mindfulness. As expected, the feedback was varied ranging from performing breathing exercises, being outdoors, taking part in Yoga to performing prayers.
The impact of Mental Health problems is huge. At least one in every four individuals will develop some form of mental health illness every year with depression and anxiety being the most common. According to the World Health Organisation, mental illness is the leading cause of disability, globally. Medication is normally offered as an effective approach in the treatment of many mental health illnesses if that is what is required yet this may not necessarily always have to be the first option.
It may come as a surprise to many that everyone has mental health and where we are placed on the spectrum of mental health can vary daily and from person to person.
Long and short term factors of inherited genes (biological), life events (circumstantial), social inclusion, culture, relationship status, income and education are regarded as predictors of mental health problems.
But perhaps what is most striking are the psychological processes which determine our behavior through our individual thinking styles coupled with our ability to reason is crucial in the development and maintenance of all mental health problems. The psychological processes of dwelling – also known as rumination – and self-blame when posed with a negative life event can impact the general well-being of our mental health. In simple terms, the way we manage and process our emotions, thoughts and feelings will determine how much or how little the causal impact of any one of previously mentioned mental health predictors can potentially affect us, if presented in the form of a negative situation.
A 2012 research paper carried out by Harvard University presented findings stating that on average our minds are lost in thought 47 per cent of the time. Ultimately, this sort of mind wandering comprised with dwelling and self-blame can form as part of the routes to the development of unhappiness and poor mental well-being.
What is crucial though in the successful treatment of any health related illness is that these measures can only be fully effective when intervention takes place at the right time, from the right place with the right people. Early intervention is a key determinant in the successful treatment of many mental health problems – depending on the nature of the illness and with the implementation of a correct treatment plan, children and particularly young people can lead their lives in a state of positive well-being.
A 2015 paper published by Professor Richard Layard, economist at LSE, found that at present, ‘only 15 per cent of adults with depression and anxiety disorders are offered psychological therapy’ and ‘only 25 per cent of children with mental health disorders receive any form of treatment.’
The statistics are alarming considering ‘proven psychological therapies cost nothing’ yet the repercussions of delayed intervention can create a whole host of other expensive social and economic problems let alone being detrimental to the well-being of those experiencing ill mental health. Furthermore, with the shortage of services and programmes available, many are not receiving the support they so desperately need.
Independent of or combined with other forms of psychotherapy treatment, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – the largest scientific organisation in the world dedicated to research on the understanding and treatment of mental illness has shown that Mindfulness can be a useful meditating tool when helping to manage these psychological processes and conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress.
On the other hand, Mindfulness may not be suitable for all nor can it be applied as a quick fix solution however, just like other cognitive behavioral therapies it does encourage and equip techniques to help one develop self-awareness and pave the way towards building resilience; thus promoting what many with poor mental health lack the most – empowerment.
Samia Quddus, Founder of Artspeaks. This blog was written from a personal perspective and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.