Mental Health Awareness Week: Why Kindness?

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By Maureen Smojkis, Lecturer in Mental Health
Department of Social Work and Social Care, University of Birmingham

“We as individuals are worth being kind to.”

Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020) is co-ordinated by the Mental Health Foundation and focuses this year on kindness, chosen in light of the challenging situation we find ourselves in, and because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity.

1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by mental illness. According to NHS statistics, the number of prescriptions given by GPs for mental health conditions has doubled in the past decade. The current situation we find ourselves is challenging and emphasises the importance of self-care, which enables us to care for those around us.

The University of Birmingham recognises the importance of compassion for self and others with the world’s first postgraduate diploma in Compassion Focused Therapy which is supported by Professor Paul Gilbert whose research and practice are underpinned by Compassion.

In the current climate, many people are understandably anxious, something that we will all experience at some point in lives, in the present situation it is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Anxiety is a mind-body process, it has a physical, psychological and behavioural response, which can be useful in certain circumstances. It is the fight or flight response to a perceived threat that triggers the physiological response to prepare us to either stay and fight or remove ourselves quickly from a situation.

Life can sometimes be a struggle and we will all experience a range of emotions in relation to life events, there is a strong possibility that we will experience loss, bereavement and life transitions, including starting or leaving a job or changing relationships. The present situation has increased our awareness of these possibilities for ourselves and those around us.

To help us on our journey, it is important to begin by developing self-understanding and to recognise our own signs of how both positive and negative events can affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We as individuals are worth being kind to. A good start is to understand our own needs, and this current situation has given many people an opportunity for reflection to identify what is important to them.

A certain amount of anxiety doesn’t harm us, but experiencing continuous stress or anxiety can potentially be damaging to our physical and mental health. This emphasises the importance of being kind to yourself. There are a number of resources that will give some ideas of how to care for yourself whilst working remotely.

Be kind to yourself during lockdown
• Stay connected to others, family, friends, colleagues
• Eat foods that you know are good for you
• Drink caffeine free drinks
• Take regular breaks
• When things are difficult try to take three minutes to do a mindfulness breathing exercise or go for a walk
• Take time to do stretching exercises and think about your posture
• Ensure that you have enough sleep
• Speak with a colleague or your manager if you have concerns

Staff and students at the University of Birmingham
If you work for the University of Birmingham the Coss Wellbeing Taskforce offers a number of activities that you can engage with for your health and wellbeing specifically for CoSS staff, and the University Wellbeing services have a number of resources available more widely. These services were set up with your wellbeing in mind, so please do make use of them.

Wellbeing resources: 


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