Update from Professor Rusi Jaspal

Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Professor Rusi Jaspal is Wandsworth Council’s advisor on social isolation. In his latest blog he shares his thoughts on Mental Health Awareness Week and how we can be kinds to ourselves and others. 

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Mental Health Awareness Week is a significant week in the calendar for me as a psychologist, because it focuses an issue that concerns us all: our mental health.

Mental health is important in its own right but there’s also evidence that poor mental health can negatively affect our physical health. Low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, distress are common concerns that most of us experience to some extent during our lives.

Mental Health Awareness Week enables us to do at least three things:

  • To become more aware of our own mental health and self-care;
  • To become attentive to the mental health and care of others;
  • To reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental health, which can stop people thinking and talking about, and seeking support for, their mental health

As I’ve acknowledged in previous updates, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the measures taken to prevent its spread (such as social distancing) have been difficult for us throughout the country, including in our borough – Mental Health Awareness Week seems especially important this year. I’d like to offer some tips about self-care during this challenging time:

  • Start your day on a positive note. Perhaps you could begin your day by sending someone (such an elderly neighbour) a note of encouragement or by thanking someone (such as a friend) for their support. This will remind you of the positivity in your life and may also help make someone else’s day. Overall, this creates a sense of positivity which can shape the rest of your day.
  • Set yourself a goal and focus on achieving it. Self-efficacy (that is, feelings of control and competence) is important. Set yourself the goal to do something (e.g. to walk for 20 minutes, to dedicate a few moments to meditation, or to do some gardening) and put aside some time to do it. This will give you a sense of accomplishment when you succeed.
  • Remember what you’re good at and do more of it. Self-esteem (that is, feeling good about yourself) is also important. We are all good at some things and less good at others. Perhaps you could focus on the things that you are good at. This may be baking, art, making things, or singing – whatever this may be, do more of it.
  • Explore your creative potential. The lockdown has provided many of us with the time to recalibrate our lives. Why not try something new and explore your creative potential? After all, creativity is good for our health. You may start to learn a new language, explore local history online, or join a new online group. All of these things are possible amid the social distancing measures, and can help us discover our creative potential.
  • Connect with others. In the era of social distancing, we’re at increased risk of isolation and loneliness. There are many ways to connect with others and to avoid these negative feelings. Now is the time to focus on staying connected. I describe some strategies in a previous update.
  • Renounce certainty and be more adaptive. We all like certainty, stability and security in our lives. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak challenges these feelings. We have to let go of certainty to some extent and accept that we will need to continue to make and accept changes to our lives. By being more creative and embracing change, we’ll train ourselves to be more adaptive.

In addition to considering these tips, do remember that the Wandsworth Community Hub is here to provide residents with support, guidance and signposting. Please get in touch if you need assistance.