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Mental Health and Disability by Sophie Bolwell-Davies

Mental health affects everyone, influencing how we feel, act and think. Although it is complicated in how it can impact your life, it is important to remember that we all have the power to change our mental health and improve it. How you look after your mental health, how you understand it and how you face its challenges, can be life changing.

Mental health has a special connection to disability, although the statistics are hard to find, of the

14.6 million disabled people in the UK (Scope), more than 4 million have mental health problems

(Mental Health Foundation), that’s over 27% of the disabled community. Individuals with disabilities are also twice as likely to develop mental health conditions, such as depression (WHO, 2022), which is why it is even more important for disabled individuals to keep an eye on their mental health. Any mental health condition which has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity, for more than 12 months, does also classify as a disability under the Equality Act of 2010. This special connection between disability and mental health, goes to show how important it is to look after your mental health, just like you woul your physical health. So you can continue doing what you love, without distraction or added challenges.

So how you can look after your mental health and where you can find support if you need it?

It’s easy to feel that others may be struggling more with their mental health than you are, and that this makes their mental health needs more important than your own. However, if you need support or are struggling, know that you too are worthy to receive help, just as they are. I speak here from personal experience, as I had been struggling with my mental health in 2022 after two of my family and a friend, passed suddenly within six months. I was understandably feeling low, and not like myself, but dismissed these feelings as something to work through, a good mindset, but something I would need professional support with. Luckily my GP noticed my anxious nature at a check up, leading me to be diagnosed with moderate depression and anxiety. The emotions I had been feeling were not healthy mental health, but I didn’t know. So if you are concerned and never reach out, how can you know for certain that you’re not having mental health challenges, and what level of support you might need?

If you’re looking to improve or maintain your mental health these are some of my favourite tips, and tricks that I hope can help you or someone you know. Looking at food, nature and sleep, hopefully some of these ideas can make a difference to you.

Firstly, your mental health and mood can be greatly impacted by what you eat and how regularly

you eat. Food gives you energy, helping you think clearly, but the stigma and miss information

around ‘healthy’ eating can be confusing. Let’s start with the classic 5 a day, which is easier to

achieve than you may think. By picking out fruit and veg in as many colours as you can when you go shopping, whether frozen, tinned fresh or in a juice, you can effortlessly give your body the vitamins, minerals and fibre you need. For easy portions, try and have a handful of each fruit and veg you choose, it’s that easy. Thinking further about your gut; look after it by also eating whole grains, beans, pulses, live yoghurt and other probiotics. And to get your fats and protein in one, try eating oily fish, walnuts, almonds, sunflower and pumpkins seeds, when ever you can. Thinking about these little things, and trying one new food a week whilst you get settled in, should help boost your mood and energy levels, as you’ll be fuelling your brain with the resources it needs to regulate your thoughts and feelings.

Another thing to try is engaging with nature inside and outside of your home. It can sometimes be difficult to find the motivation to get out the house and into the great outdoors, so if this is the case for you, have you considered bringing the outside inside? Whether it’s collecting feathers, leaves and other natural objects and using them as decoration or in art inside the home, growing plants on window sills or even just looking at videos or photos of nature online, involving yourself in nature can improve your mood and help you to feel more relaxed.

If you can get out the house, try going for a walk in a local green space, or any type of exercise

whether running, jogging or yoga, as you can do these activities solo or as part of a class in your local area. If you’d rather something less physical, trying to get arty, sketching or painting outdoor scenes whilst having a picnic outside. You could invite friends or do it alone, but it’s great for creating talking points and settings yourself an aim of what you’d like to create that day. Connecting actively with nature can truly connect you to your local community and enable you to meet new people, reducing loneliness and helping you become more active. Whether, in your own company or with others, getting out into nature can improve your confidence and give your day an aim or purpose.

Finally, let’s talk about sleep. Whether you’re getting too much sleep or too little sleep, sleep can

become a battle to balance. Especially with everyday stresses, sleep can be impossible to get or too easy to use as an escape mechanism. We have a saying in our house, ‘your bed is your friend’, which means your bed is a place of comfort and relaxation, not your enemy. The key to achieving this is replacing thoughts of I need x hours sleep and I’m only getting x, or I can’t sleep, with thoughts of what is comfortable about your bed, making sure your warm or cozy, and reminding yourself that being in bed is still rest that your body may be needing. If you still can’t relax try tensing the muscles in your body one by one on repeat, maybe try breathing exercises, or even try changing your bedroom environment, through temperature, lighting, adding or removing sound, and see if that helps. Ultimately, creating a routine can help, but if you really can’t maybe try the boomer approach of avoiding screens an hour before bed, cutting down on screen time, or removing anything that may stimulate your brain like phone games.

Ultimately, you know your body best, and if you’re not feeling right before or after trying any of

these tips, then it’s ok to seek help.

So where can you find help?

URGENT support

  1. If you or someone else is in danger, call 999 or go to A&E

  2. If it’s not an emergency but you need urgent help for your mental health, try NHS 111 online or call 111

Easy and long-term support

  1. If you want to talk to someone, about anything, at any time, but struggle with phone conversations. Then test ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 for free confidential support 24/7. It won’t appear on phone bills, and you can text as though you’re talking to a friend.

  2. If you want to talk to someone, about anything, at any time, whether written out or spoken. Then try the Samaritans: Call: 116 123 or email: . They operate 24/7 and you can call for free. You can even send them written letters to Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS. But for instant support give them a call!

  3. Long term, speak to your GP. If you need to speak to someone about your mental health and think you need more support than option 1 or 2, then book an appointment at the doctors. Mind have a great guide on how you can approach this here. Remember, to be honest about how you feel and that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

I hope this helps you if you need it, and remember you are not alone.

You can also listen to Sophie's blog post on our Spotify here.

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