Director of Public Health Annual Report 2023: Mental Health Matters

mental health matters

11. Taking action and getting help

The importance of talking about mental health

Mental health conditions are common but many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health.

There is often a stigma associated with mental health conditions and people can fear being shunned by their family or society if they admit to struggling with their mental health. Studies have found these attitudes amongst black women, refugee and asylum seeker women, and members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community. Indeed, research found that some members of the GRT community fear admitting to mental health problems in case it leads to children being removed from their families.

Men often feel under pressure to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man. This frequently results in a reluctance to talk about mental health. Men tend to wait longer before admitting to mental health problems and are less likely to engage with support. Feelings of embarrassment or shame also mean that men are less likely to take time off work for mental health reasons. These attitudes are reported to be particularly pronounced amongst black men.

As a society we need to encourage open conversations about mental health, sharing the message that everyone can be affected and emphasising the importance of promoting our mental health and seeking support.

What can we do to promote our own mental health?

While not all mental health conditions and disorders can be prevented, there are many things we can do to improve and protect our own mental health.

Be active

Physical activity has significant benefits to both our mental and physical health.

Becoming more active while spending time with others can also help us build social networks, reducing isolation and loneliness. For example, you could join one of 60 walks across Buckinghamshire in our Simply Walks scheme. Trained volunteer leaders will help you walk at your own pace, with no need to worry about being left behind. Everyone is welcome whether you are fit and active, haven't exercised in a long time, or have been advised to join by a doctor. Or use the new Love Exploring app to explore your local park or green space through games and trails for families.

Exercising outside can help us connect with nature which is another factor that has been shown to promote and protect mental health.

Get enough sleep

There are many things we can do to promote better sleep, including physical activity, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol and keeping regular sleeping hours. For more advice see: Sleep problems - Every Mind Matters.

Eat well

Having a good diet is likely to help our mental health and wellbeing. This includes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, a moderate amount of poultry, eggs and dairy and occasional red meat.

We should also limit the amount of alcohol we drink. Guidance from Chief Medical Officers is included in the box below and more detail is available at UK Chief Medical Officers' Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.

The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for alcohol for men and women is that:

  • to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
  • if you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days, if you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries
  • the risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis
  • if you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week

Support to be a healthier weight or cut down on alcohol is available to everyone who lives in Buckinghamshire via the Be Healthy Bucks free health and wellbeing service.

Quit smoking

It is better for both our physical and mental health to never start smoking. However, support is available to people who do smoke and want to give up via the Be Healthy Bucks service.

Spend time with family, make new friends and take the time to talk

Having support from family and friends is important to the mental health of both children and adults. Making time for each other, sharing our feelings and offering friendship and support can improve wellbeing and mental health (source: Top tips to improve your mental wellbeing, Every Mind Matters, NHS).

Parents have a crucial role in promoting the mental health of their children. There are lots of things that parents can do to ensure their children’s mental wellbeing, from playing and cuddling babies and young children to daily reading. Advice and support are available to parents via the Buckinghamshire Family Information Service. Local libraries offer Bounce and Rhyme sessions which are a good opportunity to meet other families with young children, enjoy music together and pick up a book to share at the same time.

Young people and adults can also promote their own mental health by making friends and finding new ways to connect with other people. This could include joining a school or community group or volunteering. Activities that engage with arts and music have been proven to be particularly beneficial to mental health.

Give to others

Acts of kindness and giving have been shown to improve our mental wellbeing. Volunteering can, therefore, boost our mental health while also introducing us to new friends and a wider social network. The Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service can link people that want to volunteer to roles where they are most needed.

Learn a new skill

Learning a new skill can promote our mental health, giving us purpose and a sense of wellbeing as well as increasing our satisfaction with life. Many community groups offer local opportunities to learn a new skill and some of these are listed on the Buckinghamshire Adult Learning website.

Consider mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and the world around you in the present moment. The practice does not appeal to everyone but some people find activities that incorporate mindfulness very helpful.

Mindfulness exercises can be found on the internet – for example, Mindful Breathing Exercise – or you might want to try a local group activity such as yoga.

Using the internet and social media safely

The internet and social media can be both positive and negative. Parents might find it useful to consider the advice from the UK Chief Medical Officers on children and young people’s screen and social media use.

While aimed at children and young people, adults might find much of this advice helpful. Older adults, especially people who can’t get out and about very much, might also benefit from support to learn how to use technology more effectively as a way to avoid becoming isolated and lonely.

Recognise caring responsibilities and seek support

Many children and adults who deliver unpaid care do not see themselves as carers. Recognising caring responsibilities can help people understand the need to take care of their own physical and mental wellbeing and to seek support.

Information on the support for young carers is available at I am a young carer and for adults at Support for carers.

How to get help

Despite all these actions, some people in Buckinghamshire will continue to suffer from mental health conditions, ranging from anxiety to severe mental illnesses. It is important to remember that mental health problems can affect anyone and are nothing to be embarrassed about.

If you have concerns about your mental health you should contact your GP. Your GP will be able to direct you to the support that is right for you. This may include a referral to NHS mental health services.

You can also access the 24/7 Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Helpline by calling 111, or seek support via one of the mental health helplines operating in the county.

Finally, it is worth remembering that many people with mental health conditions enjoy a good quality of life and many of the things in this report can support mental health alongside formal treatment.