Piece of Mind: Mental Health Awareness#MHAW 2016

Yesterday  saw the start of Mental Health week 2016.It is also, funnily enough, National Tomato week.

At first glance, those sentences couldn’t be less connected. It might cause you to question how the humble tomato might link to Mental health.

And if it does. Good.

That question is well worth considering.

I like gardening, I like tending to my allotment; I also happen to have an interest in Mental health. Over the last few years, the two have become somewhat linked.

By trade, I am teacher of Social Sciences; my specialism is Psychology. I have been teaching for a number of years, about the science of the human mind, our brains and behaviour. In doing so, I have be able to reflect beyond the visible and easy to see Physical health. My experience has informed me that whilst the medical model is heavily entrenched in what we can see, there are concerns that exist even though we cannot see physical signs or symptoms.

Not only do I teach, I have become a trained listener, I support survivors of abuse and also have an interest in supporting veterans of conflict. Mental health is a concept that somehow has managed to feed through all of those areas in one shape or form.

Being on the allotment, is something I enjoy. There may well be the odd tantrum when things don’t germinate, or the plot gets waterlogged. These things happen; but the plot also serves to have a rather positive impact upon both my physical and mental health. Physically, I will know about it if I have been digging or dragging my wheelbarrow around. There is a great deal of activity to be done on the plot. Mentally, the plot has a number of functions. In the first instance, there is a sense of mindfulness. Being able to stop, pause, take stock. To think about the here and now. Second, you find yourself thinking of other things rather than marking, planning lessons or trying to work out how you might have changed a lesson. Third, you get to experience mud beneath your finger nails in connecting with the world. Fourth, you realize that sowing seeds and seeing them germinate does rather make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Yet the merest mention of Mental health and the subsequent response is anything but warm and fuzzy. There is still alot of stigma, negative attitudes, and a disparity on a national scale as to the support available to those who experience mental health concerns. In the last eighteen months, I have noticed there have been attempts to shift the perception of mental health. A number of organisations have made strides towards an increased awareness. Even the venerable Stephen Fry tried to remove the use of  the stock ‘head clutcher’ image so very often used to accompany the words mental health.  Mental  health has started to come to the fore in the media, and people are talking about it. People are sharing their experiences, their journeys and making incredible first steps in helping Mental Health be placed firmly in the public consciousness.

Only in the last few days, I have seen the ‘Campaign against Living Miserably’. Prior to that, there was Professor Green’s documentary about how the increasing number of men committing suicide. The mental health of children and adolescents has also become a talking point. There is something definitely in the water.

As a teacher, I am mindful of a number of things. The students that I work with, may well be experiencing mental health concerns; they may know of someone who is experiencing mental health concerns, they may have questions in general about mental health. Fortunately, I am able to listen and signpost if necessary. I am more than willing to offer support. Sadly that is not always the case, and there are unfortunately, communities out there, where Mental health isn’t spoken about. If it is spoken about, it is discussed in hushed tones, behind closed doors and with people surreptitiously looking out for the Joneses and Patel’s lest they hear something. The mere sight, sound and feel of mental health concern elicits a shaking of the head, a tut, and a ‘pull yourself together’, and further makes a difficult situation even more challenging.

I mentioned the fact that it is National tomato week. This is a nod to how over the last few years the activities within therapeutic horticulture (or horticultural therapy depending on where you are) have contributed a great deal to supporting individuals with mental health concerns. The charity MIND was very successful in using activities and being able to measure the level of impact. Thrive is another example of work carried out to positive effect.

For me personally, having an allotment and tending to it, has been a really very positive experience. Beyond the lack of germination, the odd slug attacked cabbage, I firmly believe that my outlook, my mental health has been positively influenced. For example, when you have marked two dozen essays, are seeing stars; seeing the roses that you planted in full blossom is always going to gladden the soul.

So why not smell the roses? Why not, during Mental Health Awareness Week, sow a sunflower, sink some runner beans, try and sow some lupins or maybe you fancy growing your own Dahlias? You never know.

Beyond that; if you are experiencing mental health concerns, then you are not alone. There is support, talk, have a chat.

And if you know of someone who is experiencing mental health concerns. Listen. You’d be surprised just how much that helps.



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