Reflecting and Connecting this Mental Health Awareness Week
This Mental Health Awareness Week (27 Sept -3 Oct) the theme is ‘Take time to kōrero/mā te kōrero, ka ora.’ Which is all about connecting with people and making space for conversations about mental health and wellbeing.
Mental Health Awareness Week is underpinned by New Zealand’s unique Māori philosophy of Hauora, where health and wellbeing are seen as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls. These walls each represent a different aspect of our wellbeing; taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing and taha whānau/family and social wellbeing.
When all these things are in balance, we thrive. When one or more of these is out of balance, our wellbeing is impacted. Here at Network, we strongly believe in the importance of sharing honest stories to help start conversations. So, we’ve asked some of our team their experiences and reflections on Mental Health and how they manage it.
Sandy Trigg, Managing Director
My first 18-months in New Zealand were seen through a fog of postnatal depression. Moving to a new country, far away from friends and family, with a four-month-old baby, and a pre-schooler who was already showing signs of being neurodivergent took its toll. For a long time, I just felt I needed to pull myself together and get on with it, and as a mum I felt the ‘burden to make everything alright for everyone’ ultimately fell on me (it didn’t). Eventually asking for help was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
I was lucky postnatal depression came and then left, like a bad house guest, but it taught me a lot – chiefly no one thinks any less of you when you say you’re not ok, and asking for help, any help, isn’t a sign of weakness.
Rob Fitzgerald, Account Director
I have a little bit of experience with depression and anxiety and try to talk about it openly because I think it's something that's stigmatised for men, and increasingly for women. We often talk about "my door is always open" or "I'm here to talk if you need it", but for many of us it's difficult to know what to do if someone approaches you with a mental health issue or indicates they're not coping.
My advice for anyone experiencing negative thoughts is to practice mindfulness, although I get that this is difficult during periods of high stress or when you're emotionally vulnerable. It's really important to focus on the moment if you're experiencing negative thoughts in the first instance, and once you have collected yourself to then challenge those thoughts.
People tend to be much harder on themselves than they would be with another person, but if you approach whatever is causing the mental health issue in an analytical, methodical way, often it can be broken down into manageable chunks, or you can reason with yourself that it's not the catastrophe it's made out to be.
Supporting someone who is struggling is often just a matter of asking them to take an outsider's perspective; and supporting yourself if you're struggling is often a matter of taking a step back to properly examine the issue.
A healthy lifestyle - exercise, sleep, work-life balance etc - certainly helps to keep your mind healthy, but it doesn't prevent mental illness. The best way to do that is to remove the social stigma around it, which will make people more inclined to reach out when they need to.
Kate Harrington, Account Executive and Food Group.
As a dietician, I’ve always been keenly aware of the link between good mental health and a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In theory, we know the three basics we need to focus on are sleep, physical exercise and a healthy diet. These all seem like three common-sense pillars, but in a lockdown world where people are trying to balance working from home, parenting, home-schooling and many other competing priorities, sometimes we can overlook these foundations of our mental health.
Fuelling ourselves with delicious healthy food is key to keeping both our brain and bodies at peak performance. I like to think of our bodies needing fuel just as cars do, and you have to put the right fuel in your car to make it run. We need lots of different foods to play a part in helping boost mood and energy - something we’re all wanting more of! Try and eat a variety of whole foods including vegetables, fruits and whole grains that are naturally high in fibre. It’s also important to remember that food is there for enjoyment, so it’s all about listening to our bodies to know what fuel we need.
Lucy Boddy, Account Executive
There are so many elements to managing mental health that sometimes it can feel overwhelming. I think it’s easy to forget that often the foundations are the most important. For my own mental health, I’ve learnt that getting good quality sleep is extremely important. Prioritising sleep doesn’t always sound fun, but the rewards make it so worth it. More and more research shows how important regular and good quality sleep is to our physical and mental wellbeing. Not only does bad sleep impact focus and productivity ,but it can have larger ongoing impacts on your daily life. For example, lack of sleep can hinder your brain’s ability to handle emotions and can lead to increased sensitivity, mood changes and reactiveness. Good and bad sleep is much more than having one good night or bad night’s sleep or even a long lie-in on the weekend, it’s about consistency and routine.
I was at one stage a big believer in “catching up” on missed sleep during the weekends. However, this never made me feel that much better or energised. Getting into a routine where I sleep and wake at the same time has helped my energy, my mood, and my sleep in general. I now use all the sleep tips we all kind of know about but don’t often use. I try to limit my phone use before bed as blue light interferes with sleep, and I also try to have a similar end-of-day routine to help get my brain winding down. I’m also now a big believer in sleep meditations, something I only tried in desperation - now I recommend them to everyone! They’re great for helping a whirring mind settle down and focus on one thing.