Mental Health Awareness Week
Going through any legal process is naturally a highly emotional and stressful time for everyone involved. More than 70% of people going through the criminal justice system experience some form of mental health issue. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so we’ve compiled some tips on how to look after your mental health and promote healthy coping mechanisms.
What is mental health?
Mental health is your emotional and psychological well-being, and is just as important as your physical health. It can impact how you think and feel, and the ways you respond to stress, people, and decisions. Having good mental health doesn’t mean being happy 100% of the time! Everyone experiences sadness, grief, guilt, stress, and anger. The main difference is how we deal with these emotions.
Below are some tips for managing stress, anger, and feelings of low self-esteem.
Remember: this is a list of suggestions, not demands! Things that work well for other people may not work for you, and vice versa. Take your time, focusing on one or two things at first until you feel comfortable and confident to try some more.
- Track your feelings! Being in tune with your emotional ups and downs can help you avoid or prepare for difficult situations. Take some time to be introspective – consider tracking your moods in a mood diary or journal, and see if you can spot any common themes in what causes your mental health to deteriorate. Take note of any triggers or early warning signs you can identify, as well as maybe a gratitude list to balance it out! Your diary doesn’t have to be complicated. Colours, emojis, graphs… whatever works for you.
- Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It’s all part of the human experience, and responding negatively to difficult situations and high stress – or even just having an off-day – is totally normal.
- Set boundaries. Taking on too much can be emotionally draining, and can lead to burn out. It’s okay to say no to things you don’t want to do, be assertive when explaining your limits, and ask for help when you need it.
- Get creative. Whether that’s art, music or journaling, take a shot at expressing your feelings through a fun medium. Try not to worry too much about the end result – just enjoy doing it! Give your mind some time out to relax and de-stress.
- Avoid comparing yourself to other people. People often only share the more positive things in their lives, and comparisons are likely unrealistic without the full picture. Social media is essentially a highlights reel! If you spend a lot of time on social media, search out accounts that focus on the realities of daily life without sugar-coating it.
- Equally, you can utilise social media for good! Find people or social media accounts based around what you’re interested in, then reach out to them for a chat. It can be tough when you feel like your friends and family don’t quite understand what you’re saying, but there will be plenty of other people in the same boat as you!
- Connect with the people around you. If you feel able to, let them know when you’re feeling down, and explain what could help you. This could be helping you with a simple task when it feels overwhelming, listening to you talk things through, or just chatting with you to help take your mind off it. If you can’t or don’t want to talk to your friends and family, that’s okay! You can find a list of helplines and support channels at the bottom of the page.
- Do something you enjoy. Keeping busy can help distract from difficult thoughts or feelings, or help you to process them. Maybe this is the time to take up a new hobby, or restart an old one!
- If you’re feeling underconfident, remind yourself of the positives. It’s easy to forget all of our good qualities when we’re feeling low! Maybe you have a great sense of humour or a friendly smile. Maybe you’re an amazing cook, or you’re good with numbers. If you’re struggling, ask the people around you what they like about you!
- Similarly, congratulate yourself on any ‘small wins’, such as completing a task you’ve been putting off. Take the time to acknowledge what you’ve done well, both recently and in the past. These small achievements are what add up to big milestones!
- Challenge your own negative thoughts about yourself. Consider whether you’d talk to a friend that way – be as kind to yourself as you would be to those you care about! Try combatting the negative thoughts with a positive comment… it might feel unnatural, but stick with it.
- Basic self-care and hygiene can help you to feel better in yourself. On a bad day, it may not seem like a priority, but just brushing your teeth and having a quick shower can help to boost your mood. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just set yourself a small goal, such as washing your face, or getting dressed.
Your physical health and mental health are closely linked. Look after yourself and your body with these tips:
- Try to establish a good sleep routine – that includes the wind-down before bed! For example, putting away any bright screens and avoiding caffeine and alcohol can promote better night-time sleep. On average, adults need around eight hours of sleep per night. If you’re ill, elderly, or pregnant, that number might differ.
- Focus on your diet. Regular, balanced meals will stave off any feelings of being ‘hangry' (hungry and angry!), and keeping your blood sugar stable can help regulate your mood and energy levels. Drinking water and staying hydrated can also help to improve both your mental and physical health.
- Exercise! Physical activity releases some great stress-management hormones: cortisol and endorphins. You don’t have to be down the gym for several hours at the crack of dawn (unless you want to be). Just a walk or run a few times a week will get you out the house, give you a clearer headspace, and get those happy hormones flowing. You could also combine this with other feel-good activities, such as seeing a friend, or running an errand.
- If you can’t leave the house, yoga is a gentle alternative which many people find to be calming and relaxing. Alternatively, there has been a recent increase in the popularity of online Zoom exercise classes and follow-along YouTube videos. Search out ones that suit your needs!
- Try to avoid blocking things out with drugs and alcohol. It may feel like a solution to any negative feelings, but this can prevent you from dealing with the root cause of the issue and will likely cause more problems in the long run.
If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, you can contact any of these helplines. It may be worth checking first if there’s a cost involved, although these are generally free.
Samaritans - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), or email email@example.com.
SANEline. If you or somebody with you is experiencing a mental health problem, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm, every day).
If you’d prefer not to speak on the phone: text the word 'SHOUT' to 85258 to have a text conversation with a Shout volunteer. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) offer a webchat service.
If you’re feeling suicidal: you can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).
If you have a loved one in prison: The Prisoners’ Families Helpline can support you if you have a family member in prison. The call is free and confidential, and operators can provide advice and information on the justice system. Mon-Fri 9am - 8pm, weekends 10am - 3pm.
If you're under 19: call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline. This number will not appear on your phone bill.
If you're under 25: The Mix is specifically aimed at younger people. Call 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight every day) or visit their website for other options.
If you’re under 35: Papyrus HOPELINEUK is for people aged below 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings. 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 07786 209 697.
If you’re LGBT+: all Switchboard phone operators identify as LGBT+. Call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email email@example.com or use their webchat service.
If you’re concerned about drugs: Frank offers free, confidential advice, 24 hours a day. You can phone them on 0300 123 6600.