Here in the UK, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative hosted by the Mental Health Foundation to focus attention on mental health issues across the nation. This year the theme for the event is nature, with a focus on the supportive role the natural world can play in boosting mental health. The theme appears to resonate with many – with research from the foundation indicating nearly half of UK residents report nature has helped them cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. As someone who struggles with anxiety and bouts of melancholy, the theme also resonates for me personally, reminding me of my own attachment to the local Caithness landscape; the restorative power of a wind-blown walk or a sea dip along the local coast.
It would be easy, I suppose, to imagine that life in the picturesque Scottish Highlands provides some sort of immunity to mental health issues. Sadly, this isn’t reality, and many rural areas like Caithness are experiencing a mental health crisis, coupled with gaps in service which force sufferers to travel long distances to access specialist care. Statistics published by Public Health Scotland earlier this year showed that 1 in 4 children were turned away from specialist mental health services in Scotland between October-December 2020, and that none of Scotland’s regional NHS Boards met the 18 week target for adult psychological services in the same quarterly period. There is a huge amount to do on supporting mental health issues in Scotland. Here in Caithness, it has been encouraging to see the growth of initiatives like Caithness Cares – a Scottish Government funded pilot scheme aimed at improving mental health for those aged 5-26 in the community. Elsewhere, charity organisations, community groups, practitioners and individuals willing to share their own experiences are doing what they can to help.
At the most basic level, talking, listening, and behaving with empathy are perhaps some of the most useful things we can do to help ourselves, and those who might be suffering around us. Thankfully mental health no longer has the stigma it once did, and the language around issues like anxiety has become more open (even a few years ago in Caithness, I recall hushed conversations about folk being ‘troubled with their nerves.’) It’s become more common for people to speak out about the mental health issues they’re experiencing – but in rural areas, some people still find mental health difficult to talk about. Each day, I pass a handwritten sign on my walk along the headland, a place where stormy seas clamour against the cliff face. It says storms don’t last forever, a maxim calling out to the most despairing of moments. Implicit in that message is also something unwritten – a reminder inked into the air and the landscape:
Someone cares. You are not alone.
As Covid restrictions ease, we could assume that mental health issues will begin to blend into the background, usurped by the excitement of freedom. Unfortunately, this is unlikely, given the existing scale of the problem, and the fact that we have all spent the last year contending with traumas of varying shape and size. Personally, I have felt an unexpected greyness hanging over my recent days, the result of a few nagging stressors that combine to make me anxious. The feeling lifts when I connect with nature or those close to me – or when I simply grant myself the grace to accept the way I feel.
However you are feeling this Mental Health Awareness Week, I hope you are granting yourself the grace to feel it. Recognising that your feelings are valid, and talking to yourself as if you were talking to a friend.
Talking, sharing, listening, connecting and empathising.
And remembering those words from a rugged Caithness headland:
Storms don’t last forever. Someone cares. You are not alone.
If you enjoyed this article you might find some of my other musings on mental health matters helpful:
Building Your Wellbeing Armoury – tips and ideas for promoting resilience.
Digital Discipline – thoughts on social media and mental health.
Filling Your Cup And Drinking From It – promoting self-care and inward-directed kindness.
Saying No To Perfect – battling perfectionism and recognising impacts on wellbeing.
What Autoimmune Illness Really Feels Like – my experience of ‘invisible illness’ and the effect of chronic conditions on mental health.