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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

It's time to talk about our mental health


10 October is #WorldMentalHealthDay - Jill Cheshire, CIH's training and CPD manager, explains why it's more important than ever for us to be open and honest about our own experiences.

Image of paper people holding handsTaking the first steps to writing a blog, starting a novel or striking up a conversation can be difficult - a step into the unknown. How much do we tell, how much do we reveal of ourselves? But invariably there is great reward and feeling of achievement as you take the first steps to talking about your own mental health – and that’s a completely different scenario.

I think about mental health as a spectrum - we can have times when we enjoy good mental health and other times when we live with poor mental health. At some stage within our lives we might experience trauma, an accident, redundancy, abuse, or something that leads to us moving in the wrong direction along that spectrum.

One person in four experiences some form of problem with their mental health, and eight per cent to 12 per cent of the population experiences depression in any year. I find these statistics staggering - so why does it remain such a barely-discussed subject, with taboo and stigma attached to it? With people quick to judge and sufferers afraid to speak about it, despite best efforts from mental health charities and government departments, there are still many misconceptions about mental health.

The perception of someone with poor mental health might be that they are weak or a ‘nutter’ or a character from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest - but look around you and remember the statistic. One person in four.

Anyone at any time can suffer anxiety - and certain levels of anxiety can be good for us (a rise in adrenalin can spur us on but these levels generally return to normal) - whereas a person with an anxiety disorder retains high levels of adrenalin and cortisol which carry the symptoms of feeling wired and tired. People with anxiety may find themselves constantly worrying - they may feel irritable, have difficulty sleeping and relaxing, and suffer from physical ailments (headaches, chest pains, stomach ache, etc). They can struggle to solve problems which previously would have been easy.

Poor mental health can also take the form of depression, panic attacks, phobias, OCD and psychosis - but sadly these terms alone give us very little information on what each individual is feeling..

I have recently completed my mental health first aid (MHFA) training. I'm sure you'll agree that we have all at some time taken part in physical first aid training - when we see someone injured, bleeding, or feeling sick, we can reach out a helping hand to comfort (or bandage!). But what do we do when we cannot see physical symptoms? In essence, this is what the MHFA training is about. We are not trained as therapists or experts, but instead to recognise symptoms and provide initial help, to assess for self-harm or suicide, and to listen non-judgementally, give reassurance and encourage professional help and self-help.

It's important we all remember that anyone who struggles with poor mental health - whether short term or long term - can function perfectly well at work and in society, with coping strategies, self-help, therapy and/or medication – given the chance!

Stress, anxiety and depression accounted for a third of the 133 million working days lost in 2010 alone. Imagine the impact of early intervention, of someone recognising the signs or just providing a safe environment to listen.

So let’s not be afraid to discuss our mental health - good or bad - on World Mental Health Day 2016.

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