Thoughts on World Mental Health Day

Woman smiling

Mental health has received more media coverage over the past twelve months than ever before, and at last it is being openly talked about: one of the last taboos to be broken.

Physical health is very evident in our own lives and those of others. Sports channels celebrate physical prowess in a multitude of different disciplines, and extreme endeavours are rightly lauded. Entertainment and fashion emphasise and promote an idealised body image, but slowly yet surely, we are moving towards acceptance of fuller figures and increased representation of those with disabilities.

The recent Invictus Games, created and championed by Prince Harry together with the Paralympics, has firmly placed disabled athletes on the world stage. However, as Prince Harry and his brother have recently said, it is the invisibly wounded who need attention too. Their charity Heads Together is one of a number of new initiatives breaking down the stigma around mental health.

It is an astonishing fact that today there are more mentally ill people in prison in America than there are in hospitals. For too long – decades, even centuries – hiding away the mentally ill and mentally distressed has been a standard establishment procedure in the developed world. Various policies in the UK have helped to move us forward up to a point, but discrimination and prejudice still undeniably exist.

Today is World Mental Health Day – an opportunity to recognise that anyone, anywhere, at any time, in any circumstances, can be afflicted with temporary and mild symptoms of mental illness, or something more severe. Soon, I hope we will come to regard mental health and physical health as two sides of a three-sided coin. Spiritual health, I believe, is equally important and should be considered an essential part of the holistic medical and philosophical realms.

By “spiritual health” I don’t mean religion or religious practices. It’s widely accepted that the contemporary definition of spirituality has evolved to refer to the personal values upon which we live our lives, cultivating self-awareness to discover these values, and ultimately discovering the path that will allow us to uncover the true essence of our being. Spirituality is a way in which we can find our inner peace, and a sense of purpose.

Meditation is one way of helping us keep mentally healthy by not only giving us the space to reconnect with ourselves – which is an important part of spiritual health – it also eases stress and anxiety by flooding the brain with 'bliss chemicals' such as serotonin. This offsets the damage from adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol which flood our systems when we are feeling under pressure.

High levels of cortisol, in particular, can have lasting effects if left unchallenged, taking between two to five days to be expelled from the body after periods of intense stress. A regular meditation practice can keep this in check, and allow the body to repair itself by resting deeply.

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, it is about taking steps to ensure mental health is actively looked after and nurtured, and meditation is both a clinically and anecdotally proven tool to help that happen.

To find out more about the positive impact of meditation on mental health, join Anthony Thompson for a free, no-obligation introduction to our meditation courses. These happen regularly in London, and you can book online here.

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Anthony Thompson