Mental Health Awareness Week is a time to ask big questions. Here is a BIG question that keeps me awake at night: what is the single greatest thing we could do to prevent mental health problems?
Many of you reading this will have gone through periods of mental ill health or walked through it with the person you love most. I know I have. And that's why there is an urgency to find answers. I think this generation has a window of opportunity to call for change and to discover a new way forward.
As a species, we've been around for 200,000 years. For most of that time, mental health has not been on our radar. Too busy surviving. But we are starting to understand that mental health is essential to make life worth surviving.
We will find out just how many of us are living with high levels of stress and what the triggers are. If we are anything like our friends in the USA, the findings could be troubling.
Our message? We can't afford to under-estimate stress or avoid making the changes needed for a less toxic approach to living. Here I want to explain why.
Stress is not a mental health problem itself. The stress response is a survival strategy to keep us safe. It was a vital adaption when looking to survive being eaten on the savannah.
Humans won the evolutionary game of thrones because when we sensed threat or danger, our amygdala (the part of our brain controlling emotions like fear and anxiety) switched on like a light. When that happens, the brain shuts down any unnecessary functions and hormones like cortisol flood the blood with glucose, giving a power surge to the body’s muscles to respond in two ways; flight or fight.
The social scientist Michael Marmot describes stress as what happens when we can't control what is happening to us. And today our brain cannot distinguish between a lion’s menacing presence and the affront of a rude person who pushes past you in the queue. The physiological response is the same. Many of us are triggering our stress response repeatedly every day – day in, day out.
It leads to what the experts call the allostatic overload. Instead of out-witting the lion and then retreating to a nearby cave, repeated stressful events is like being chased all day by a lion on repeat. Sound like one of your days? It turns out that this is very bad for us. It makes us sick.
Researchers at the Yale Stress Center found that when stress becomes a way of life - rushing from pillar to post (reading emails as you fly past) - the prefrontal cortex part of our brain begins to shut down and even reduces in size. The prefrontal cortex is the most recently evolved part of our brains – it regulates our amygdala, blood pressure and heart beat but also enables us to learn, plan, concentrate and make judgements.
Read on here https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/stress-are-we-coping