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Changing Minds

Feed your head

Today is World Mental Health Day 2014, a day when people all around the world work to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and preventing mental illness.

For those of us working to popularise mental health though, the focus of World Mental Health Day can be frustratingly negative, dominated by discussions of mental illness and defined more by the differences between us than the things that unite us. We need to talk about the problems, but we have to make the topic relevant for people first.

World Mental Health Day should be a chance to celebrate our minds and discuss what we need as a society. We should be debating the structural issues affecting everyone’s minds – from the stress levels in our workplaces to the facilities in our communities – and asking how our institutions and our society need to change to improve mental health for everyone.

Good mental health is a universal topic, and one of our most basic human needs. Mental health issues cost the UK £105bn per year according to recent Government figures, and affect people from all backgrounds. James Morris MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, once told me he believes mental health to be the single biggest policy challenge of the next thirty years. And yet we still have no official public mental health campaign in the UK.

The case for taking care of our minds is obvious though. So how can we tap into our natural desire to be healthy and successful, and use it to put mental health at the heart of our public consciousness?

STATE OF MIND

In 2013, Mindapples and the mental health charity, Mind, conducted a survey of national attitudes and behaviours around our minds. The results showed some surprising trends in public attitudes.

We certainly know our minds are important. 84 per cent of people we surveyed believed their mental health to be as important as their physical health. Yet we seem to do surprisingly little to look after ourselves. Despite saying their mental health is important, 52 per cent of our respondents said they had never thought about it before. We know our minds matter, but turning that into positive actions seems to be more of a struggle.

One problem is that the term ‘mental health’ has become so associated with illness. Many years of campaigning in this have shown us just how entrenched these associations have become. Whilst physical health is something to be proud of having, mental health is often seen as something to be avoided, only relevant for sick people rather than a universal goal. So we have no positive image to move towards, and we struggle to take action. Perhaps this is why 72 per cent of our respondents felt mental health and wellbeing issues were not discussed openly enough in society.

Another problem is that we know so little about our minds. We are bombarded with information about plaque on our teeth, germs on our hands and salt in our food, yet we are taught almost nothing about our minds. We don’t learn the concepts, and we don’t know what’s normal. The result is that our minds can feel shadowy and mysterious, something over which we have little control. So we tune out the messages, ignore our minds and focus on easier things like watching our waistlines or cutting down on sugar, and hope the experts will fix us if something goes wrong.

There is a growing public interest in the mind though, from neuroscience stories in the media to the growth of popular psychology. In fact, 72 per cent of our survey respondents said they would like to know more about looking after their mental health and wellbeing. When it comes to engaging people in thinking more about the health of their minds, we are pushing at an open door.

WE ALL HAVE MENTAL HEALTH

What we do really does make a difference. When it comes to mental health, we have a huge untapped opportunity to improve the health of our nation.

Basic physiological factors like sleep and hydration can have a big impact, whilst making time for “breathers” and “restorers” in our daily lives can help us maintain our mental wellbeing and prevent problems before they occur. Some Department of Health studies suggest that as much as 50 per cent of mental health issues are preventable. The message is clear: we need to take better care of ourselves.

Too often, though, these issues have got lost in discussions of softer subjects like happiness and wellbeing, making people reluctant to invest and taking the attention away from the basic ingredients of good mental health. We talk about reducing stigma, promoting wellbeing, increasing happiness – and mental health continues to miss out.

Mental health is far too important to be dismissed as a fad or a luxury. It is every bit as essential as watching our diet and washing our hands, and it needs to be treated in those terms. We need to encourage people to look after their minds, minimise the factors that can make people ill, get people help early, and help people recover quickly. As the Chief Medical Officer put it in her recent report, “This is ‘low-hanging fruit’; we must not ignore it, or focus instead on ‘well-being’”.

It’s time for a change. We all have mental health, and looking after our minds is a normal part of having a successful life. So, this World Mental Health Day, let’s work towards a general public understanding of what our minds need to thrive, and ask how we can improve our society to fit the needs of our minds, rather than the other way around.

TAKE ACTION

Here are three things you can do today to promote mental health:

  1. Talk about your mind. That doesn’t just mean talking about problems with your mind: talk about how you are feeling, how the world is affecting you mentally, and what your mind needs to thrive. The more we talk to each other, the more normal it becomes and the more we start to learn about ourselves and each other. Mindapples even has a free iPhone app, Moodbug, to make it easy to share your moods with people you trust. moodbug.me
  2. Learn about your mind. The more we know about something, the more we can do about it and the less daunting it feels. So take time to learn about your mind, from books like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Daniel & Jason Freeman’s Use Your Head, and websites like Mindhacks and Farnham Street. Here’s one of our introductory talks on the subject to get you started: http://mindap.pl/mindcognac
  3. Practise your mindapples. Sleep, water, nutrition, exercise and day-to-day general breathers and restorers can help keep your mind fresh and health through the day, so make time for your mind and help others do the same. You can share the 5-a-day for your mind and see what other people do here at mindapples.org

[An edited version of this post has also been published on Huffington Post.]

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Fresh from the mind orchard Mindapples present….Moodbug!

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Leaving for university can be an emotional cocktail. A blend of excitement and freedom with a large dash of fear and as many a student will know, too many cocktails physical or emotional will leaving you feeling a little worse for wear.
Moodbug is a simple app available for iPhones that lets you share your mood with a personalized list of people from your phone contacts. From your family and friends back home to your new uni roommates you can share how you feel with whomever you choose. So whether you’ve just found a t-shirt stuffed at the bottom of your bag that smells like home and has turned you into a blubbering mess or you got a better mark in that assignment than you were expecting, a quick tap of the fingers and you can share what’s going on and how you feel.
With the whole living on your own/fending for yourself situation life can get more than a little hectic.A phone call or even a text can seem impossible however Moodbug allows you to view your friends and families moods in seconds and keep updated with their lives. It’s like a Facebook for feelings. Moodbug also allows you to send and receive free e-gifts to celebrate those highs and comfort those lows. So when you’ve got a long night of studying ahead receiving an e-hamburger from your mum might be just the thing you need.

The app is available free from the App Store at http://mindap.pl/moodbug

Read more at http://moodbug.me/

Me and my Mindapples

Natalie Heaton from Bupa talks us throughbio_photo the 5-a-day for her mind and why cloud-watching, thinking up stories and fancy dress improve her mental wellbeing

I’ve picked up a pesky cold and my body is craving good nutrition. So as I write this I’m eating some grapes and blueberries. That’s two of the five-a-day we’re all so familiar with. But how is my mind doing? Apart from feeling a bit bunged up and a little sorry for myself, I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. That’s because I took some time to think about my Mindapples; the five things I do on a regular basis that helps me feel okay. The ways we look after our mental wellbeing can sometimes feel less tangible than exercise or nutrition, so it really does help to take a moment to write it down.

1. Write a story

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I’m writing a story. I’ve been writing it for some time (ahem). But in a way that’s not the point. Whether I finish it or not (and I really hope I do), I get so much out of spending at least half an hour a day tapping a way and watching the word count clock up. I’m very guilty of procrastinating so I have to set a timer and it inspires me to keep writing till the beeping starts.

I love the creative process: brainstorming, thinking up ideas and details about the lives of other people. I have a desk, that I made with my boyfriend (actually he made most of it) out of a recycled pallet and various bits and bobs. And this is where I write. On my makeshift noticeboard I’ve got five creative postcards that help keep me going. My favourite is from Einstein who says: ‘Imagination is the highest form of research.’

2. Get cosy

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As Autumn beckons, I’ve set up my living room as a haven of cosiness for the approaching dark nights. I don’t just have one blanket on the sofa. I have a basket of blankets ready to hand by the sofa. My favourite is fleecy on one side and furry on the other. When I do something, I like to go the whole hog. There’s nothing cosier than drawing the curtains, lighting some scented candles, putting on my slipper boots and snuggling under a blanket with the piece de resistance: my kindle. I’d rather read a book than watch TV any day.

3. Take a good look around

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I do leave the house regularly, contrary to the above! I walk five miles a day to work and back. It never feels like a chore. In fact, the odd occasion I have got the bus or tube, I arrive at work in a much grouchier mood. Not only does walking boost endorphins (feel-good hormones), I think it’s good for practising being in the present moment too (mindfulness).

A lot of the time it seems like everyone’s just trying to get from A to B. Head down, or looking at a phone. Is the view of the pavement really going to improve your mood? Unless some unfortunate person has dropped a fiver on the ground, I doubt there’s much to be found. So I make it my business to look around, look up and notice things.

There’s always so much to see. A cloud in the sky that looks like a Moomin, the ever-changing architecture at Kings Cross (I especially love the fountains at Granary Square). I might exchange a smile with a stranger, see a window display that I like, or discover a new coffee shop that’s opened – all before 9am!

4. Water the flowers

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Like many people living in London, I don’t have a garden. For a long time all I did was lament this unfortunate fact. And then I snapped out of it and decided to make the most of the sliver of space outside my living room window. I got outside (climbed out the window), swept away the leaves and invested in some pot plants. I don’t know all their names and the squirrels do their best to dig them up, but I love opening the curtains in the morning and seeing a new flower that’s bloomed.

And since I carved out a tiny garden, it’s become an urban haven for wildlife! The disused barbeque that we keep meaning to throw out is now a bird bath! I love hearing them splashing around and ruffling their feathers. And even though I have to climb out of the window to get outside, once I’m out there, I feel really calm and relaxed. I didn’t know that watering plants could have such a calming effect. I love the stillness of the evening, the way my thoughts wander or just concentrate on the task in hand.

5. Start a silly conversation on WhatsApp

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My family and my close circle of friends – we’re all spread out across the county. We can’t pop round for a cuppa or go to the cinema spontaneously. It’s often a case of planning months in advance for a weekend when we’re free to meet. So for the times in between, I try my hardest to keep connected with everyone I love. I speak to my mum on my way to work several times a week, a friend and I often start an email conversation at the beginning of the week that takes us the whole way through to the weekend. I love being tagged in a funny quote or a Throwback Thursday picture on Instagram.

One of my favourite evenings this year was when I was at home watching Eurovision. Before it had barely started a group of over 10 of us had connected on WhatsApp and were watching it together, even sending each other photos of our drinks and snacks. It was such a fun evening, despite not being able to be together in person. We’ve recently done it to decide what our fancy dress costumes should be for this year’s Bestival festival. Much silliness ensued (see above!).

Everyone’s got their own mind and their own Mindapples, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about mine!

Natalie Heaton is a reader, a writer, a bad cook, a loyal friend, and always looking for the secret to contentment. Natalie is a Senior health editor for Bupa UK, with a keen interest in mental wellbeing.

Mindapples at the Secret Garden Party 2014

Wow. What a party. The Secret Garden Party never fails to deliver. The Mindapples team had great fun cavorting around the fairy tale-esque back drop of Huntingdon. We had our Head Gardener, Andy Gibson, dressing up as a fawn (just like Mr Tumnus in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and our digital advisor and all round ‘Bad Apple’, Daniel Kolodziej, sporting a rather *ahem* ‘fetching’ pony tail..

But, more importantly the team was able to spread the good word that mental health is a subject that should be openly talked about, whatever the setting. We were lucky enough to ‘plant’ three Mindapples trees across the Secret Garden Party, where our team asked people “What’s the 5-a-day for your mind?”. Much like we look after our bodies by exercising or having 5-a-day of fruit and veg, we ask people to consider and share what they do to look after their mind by jotting them down on our Mindapples cards and hanging them on our tree – as ever the Mindapples tree’s attracted a great deal of attention with 100s of people sharing their 5-a-day!

20140726_171342Secret Garden Party 2014 was also the first stage of our plans for promoting the new Mindapples app, Moodbug. Moodbug is a free app for Apple iOS that allows users to safely share their mood and how they really feel about life’s ups and downs with their close friends, family and even work colleagues. After all, isn’t it easier to look out for one another and effectively communicate if we have an idea of how people are REALLY feeling at any given time? Already, Moodbug has been a success for Mindapples, as we were able to get to the finals for the 2014 App Design Awards, with one of our happy users saying, “I’ve been using Moodbug for a couple of weeks now and I really love it. It’s a simple and friendly way to share and track your moods. I love that it lets you map your moods over time and my favourite part is the lovely little gifts you can give and receive to help a friend who’s feeling bad or celebrate with someone who is feeling good. Moodbug makes me happy. And it’s pretty too”

In order to raise awareness of the significant benefits of understanding how moods work and how important it can be to understand how those who matter to us are feeling, we asked the good folk at the Secret Garden Party to send in a text telling us how they actually feel about the Secret Garden Party. Our personal favourite being, “Like a fairy sparkling and buzzing in the pink frothy tutu of life!”

Once people had texted in, we then randomly selected 3 winners who would win, wait for it.. a haul of ‘Mind Cider!’. Below we can see Bad Apple, Daniel Kolodziej, helping one of the event attendees to pick one of our lucky winners. Thank heavens we cant see his pony tail! :-)

20140727_131816After having such a fun and successful Secret Garden Party, we want to continue spreading the word about positive mental health and also hopefully get even more happy users on our new app, Moodbug. So, please visit the Moodbug website, www.moodbug.me, and even better still, download it and start sharing how you REALLY feel with those that matter to you, today!

Download Moodbug here

Mindapples trees sprouting for University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day

Today is University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day and students all over the country are putting on all sorts of events aimed at promoting the mental health of people in Higher Education.

Mindapples is delighted to be supporting the day again and helping to raise awareness of this really important cause.

A number of universities have bought applecards and mindapple trees from our DIY shop, and are using them to ask students to share five things they do to look after their minds.

Winchester SU 2014 (via @katyloveless)

A recent British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy survey of university counsellors suggests that over the last three years the number of students seeking counselling has increased by 16%.

With the increasing pressure on students from higher fees and job market competition, together with the challenges of going through considerable life transition, it’s more important than ever to raise awareness of where students can go for help, and what they can do themselves to look after their minds.

That’s why we hope lots of students – and anybody else who would like to join in – will take a moment today to think about the 5-a-day for their minds. What we do affects how we feel and the more aware we are of that, the more intentional we can be about taking care of our minds. Small steps in taking care of ourselves really do add up.

Department of Social Policy and Social Work, The University of York (via @spsw)

You can find out more about what’s happening around the country for University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day from our friends at Student Minds.

If you’re on a campus, please do join in with any events going on there. If you’re near a mindapple tree, grab an applecard and share your 5-a-day – or make your own apple if you have to!

Take a picture of your applecard and send it to us!

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For more information on how you can purchase mindapples trees and toolkits to run your own mental wellbeing events in your community, visit www.mindapples.org/shop.

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Love your mind this World Mental Health Day

Love Your Mind with Mindapples on World Mental Health Day 2013This coming Thursday 10th October is World Mental Health Day.

World Mental Health Day is often a time when people focus on raising awareness of mental illness. Mental illness in all its forms still causes huge suffering to individuals and families, and yet it receives only a fraction of the medical research investment of other more socially-acceptable issues, and a tiny proportion of spending on healthcare services despite costing the country around £105bn a year. Mindapples supports greater investment in the research and treatment of mental illness, and we would encourage every single one of you to do so too.

However, we have never been an organisation focussed on mental illness. Our goal, as it has been since 2008, is to promote the positive side of mental health, to help people understand and take care of their minds, get the most from themselves and promote good mental health and wellbeing throughout society.

So this year at Mindapples, we are spreading the message Love Your Mind on World Mental Health Day, to promote positive mental health. We rely on our minds for everything we do, and we can all do something to take care of them. So please help us spread the word, and Love Your Mind.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, we would love your support for our Thunderclap campaign. We need 100 people to sign up for a mass social media message to be sent out at noon on October 10th, World Mental Health Day, with the message “Love Your Mind”. We’ll also be posting some lovely images on Thursday on the Mindapples Facebook page for you to share.

If you don’t like social media, remember you can still tell people about World Mental Health Day the ol’ fashioned way by starting positive conversations about mental health with the people around you. Talking to each other is good for our minds!

So please help us reach our target, put this issue a little more on the map, and maybe have some fun in the process.

Happy World Mental Health Day to you for Thursday, and here’s wishing good mental health to all of you, whatever that looks like for you.

Posted by Andy

Make Time For Your Mind

This is a guest blogpost by John James Morris who took part in the Team v campaign “Make Time For Your Mind”.

During my first campaign, raising awareness of youth homelessness with Team v, I spent three nights sleeping rough in Stoke-On-Trent. It was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done but the phenomenal response made it worthwhile. So when I say that the second campaign, Make Time for Your Mind, pushed me even further (but was infinitely more successful) I hope you can understand what that means.

Michael's tree

Because of the first campaign’s success I had over 30 eager volunteers and so, wanting to utilise them – and not being one to do things in moderation, I decided to think outside the box. It wasn’t long before Feelgood February was born. The idea was to run a month of activities, at Keele University, to get people to try new things and think about their minds.

Team v Keele succesfully ran events such as: free pancakes, an international food stall, arts & crafts, happiness packs; filled with balloons, sweets and activities, a hockey taster session, feel good valentine’s day cards, a Mindapples tree and more.

Obviously the free stuff went down a treat but what surprised me was how well the Mindapples cards were received. I loved them but was dubious as to how the general public (students) would feel. I tested them during my first volunteer meeting, using them as an icebreaker. My volunteers their simplicity and how they engendered conversation about our minds. It wasn’t long before I had used all the cards.

In 28 days we had filled out 200 Mindapples cards, made and given out 350 pancakes, 500 happiness packs and 650 Valentine’s Day cards. Okay it might not be as mentally challenging as going homeless but it was intense; we planned, prepared and ran 4/5 events a week.

Feelgood February was hard but I don’t regret one second. I remember towards the end one of my volunteers told me how grateful he was to be involved. He said that mental health was such an important issue he was glad there were people addressing it. His words were echoed by students and staff throughout the campaign. Messages filled Twitter and Facebook during our events, especially when we distributed Valentine’s Day cards with handwritten inspirational quotes, funny lines or feel good messages in. Such was the success of Feelgood February that I intend, and have started planning, to rerun it in 2014.

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But I was not the only one campaigning. 80 leaders across the country were putting their own spin on Make Time for Your Mind. At the end of the eight week campaign Team v leaders had spoken to over 3,500 people (over 1,000 on my campaign alone) of which almost 3,000 said they’d do more to look after their minds.

“Make Time for Your mind was an incredible way to break through the stigma and talk about an important issue,” says Beth Whitaker, a 2012/13 Team v leader, “Mindapples have a wonderful way of tackling mental health by making people realise how little we do for our minds. We [Team v] campaigned across the country in a way that was fun and engaging. It was definitely my favourite campaign.” I couldn’t agree more.

Team v is a youth leadership program for 18-25 year olds. It gave us the opportunity to run three campaigns. We were given a budget, had to recruit volunteers, get organisations involved, and organise events. The new crop of leaders are currently recruiting volunteers – find out more and get involved here: www.vinspired.com/teamv

By John James Morris

jjmorrisblog.wordpress.com
@johnjamesmorris