Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event to raise awareness and promote open conversations about mental health. It happens during the second week of May each year, and the next occurrence will be in May 2024.
Studies have revealed that during the pandemic in 2020, some individuals over 50 experienced a deterioration in their mental well-being, resulting in elevated levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The goal of mental health awareness week is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and to encourage individuals, such as those struggling with feelings of anxiety, to seek support when needed.
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The history of Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental Health Awareness Week began in 1949 when Derek Richter established the Mental Health Research Fund to discuss physical and mental health problems and the imbalance between the two. It has since become one of the most important support services and support groups for many things related to mental health.
Derek was a scientist interested in how life events (such as serving in the war) and lifestyle can determine if you have poor or good mental health.
Mental health issues addressed in Mental Health Awareness Week 2023
In 2023, mental health experts focused on anxiety as the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week. This isn’t surprising given the cost-of-living crisis and having experienced a pandemic only a year or so ago. Not to mention that the NHS and carers are overwhelmed. In fact, research shows that one in three older carers feel overwhelmed because of the care and support they provide.
The Mental Health Foundation named the campaign ‘Just’ Anxiety?’ in an attempt to distinguish the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders and have the support they need to help themselves and others.
Resources provided to help with anxiety
During the build-up to Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation provides resources for everyone to manage anxiety (a very normal emotion) in minutes. The website uses the latest news and statistics to advise the following helpful techniques for anxiety sufferers:
10-minute anxiety techniques
- Name five things you can see.
- Four things you can feel.
- Three things you can hear.
- Two things you can smell.
- One thing you can taste.
How this technique helps: This 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique awakens your senses to bring you back to the present moment. Therefore, you focus on your surroundings and senses, putting less emphasis on your thoughts (which is recommended if you have OCD).
Disengage your adrenaline
Participate in physical activity for 10 minutes to burn off the extra adrenaline your body produces during an anxiety attack. Some simple moves might include star jumps or running on the spot.
How this technique helps: A short burst of exercise releases any built-up adrenaline your body produces during anxiety when it thinks you’re in fight or flight mode.
Take yourself to a quiet space with minimal distractions and no noise. Inhale slowly, filling your lungs and intentionally tensing a part of your body. Exhale gradually (ideally, slower than your inhale) and release the part of your body you tensed.
How this technique helps: Tensing your muscles and then relaxing them allows you to feel the difference between anxiety-related stress and relaxation.
5-minute anxiety techniques
Practice some activities to divert your attention away from anxious thoughts. Some activities include mindful colouring, listening to a podcast, reading a book chapter, or connecting with friends on social media.
How this technique helps: This distraction technique helps to provide quick and immediate ways to deflect your thoughts onto something other than the situation or thought that’s bringing you anxiety.
The 333 rule
Identify three objects in your environment, three sounds and three items you can move or touch. Allow yourself to notice all the details of the items in your vicinity, paying attention to the sensations.
How this technique helps: The 333 rule brings your focus to what’s happening right now. By doing this, you put your attention on other senses and factors that are far from anxiety.
Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. As the air fills your lungs, imagine you’re drawing one side of a square, holding your breath for four seconds. Each time you take a breath, imagine drawing another side of a square.
How this technique helps: This breathing technique returns your body to its natural rhythm to restore balance in your body and mind.
If you are looking for more helpful tips and techniques to manage anxiety, the Mental Health UK website is a great resource. They also provide valuable information on various health and well-being topics to help you maintain good mental health.
What are the objectives of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week?
Mental Health Awareness Week is an important event that raises awareness of mental health conditions. The week ensures that mental health is a prominent topic for public discussion and provides ways to fundraise to support mental health charities around the UK.
In 2023, the main objectives of Mental Health Awareness Week included looking at anxiety, how anxiety can affect people living with severe mental illness, what external factors can trigger this strong response, and what we can do to support our peers.
Reflecting on previous years, the primary goal for 2022 was to increase awareness regarding the connection between poor mental health and loneliness. In 2021, the week's official theme was nature. As of July 2023, the chosen theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 has yet to be announced. You can visit the Mental Health UK website to stay updated on the Mental Health Foundation's selection for next year's theme.
The Mental Health Foundation was founded in 2001. Since then, Mental Health Awareness Week has offered a set agenda each year, coordinating activities for the week. Every May, millions of young people across the UK come together to help positively impact mental health.
The importance of Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental health remains an important topic after years of being neglected and ignored. This specific week sparks a conversation each year, ensuring that mental health remains at the front of everyone’s mind to help fundraise support across the UK.
It is crucial to recognise mental health as an integral part of the overall well-being of older adults. Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week provide an opportunity to foster understanding, empathy, and support for mental health struggles, ensuring that everyone feels heard, valued, and empowered to seek help when needed.
By continuing to prioritise mental health discussions and resources, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate society for all, regardless of age.