For most of my adult life, I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression.
Responses to statements like that are typically met in a handful of ways. Some people who have suffered with it themselves will respond with empathy and understanding, while others will want to compare your depression to theirs in an ill-conceived attempt to ‘win’ at who’s the most depressed. If you haven’t suffered from mental illness, you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones; according to Mind, one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem each year. If you’ve never suffered with or been around somebody with mental health issues, you might respond to someone ‘coming out of the closet’ with anxiety and depression (they’re the best of friends) in the same way you might if they told you they now only eat quinoa and drink Bulletproof coffee. Believe me, if I had to pick a bandwagon to jump on, it wouldn’t be depression – there’s still far too much stigma.
The problem with talking about mental health is that it’s largely unseen compared to physical health and woefully misunderstood. Telling someone with depression that “it’s not so bad” is like telling someone with a broken leg to walk it off. There’s no shame in mental illness, certainly no more so than having the flu or tonsillitis. Your physical and mental health are deeply connected, too. As humans, we love to put things into categories. We literally can’t help ourselves. Evolution has decreed that we will classify as much as we can, even if the things we classify are unfamiliar to us. We speak of ‘work life’ and ‘home life’, and then decide that we need to balance those things. The truth is, it’s all just life.
“There is significant and growing evidence of the physical and mental health benefits of access to good quality green space in town and country with a range of positive health outcomes.”
In the same way, there’s no immovable line that divides our physical and mental health. You’ll see people in the gym before and after work, joggers counting the miles, cyclists counting whatever cyclists count… but how many of us take care of our mental health in the same way?
I started meditating more or less daily about 5 years ago now (honestly, I’m not all that into quinoa) and it’s made a life-changing difference to me. You start to realise that your thoughts are like clouds; some of them kind of look like sheep, while others are darker and more foreboding, but ultimately they’re just clouds. They come, they go. If you’ve ever watched them pass, climbed high enough or taken a flight so that you’re above them, you’ll know that there’s nothing but blue sky behind them. The blue sky is always there, sometimes it’s just a little harder to see.
Personally, I’m not that into extremes. I don’t particularly want to run a marathon, nor do I want to sit in a pretzel position in the Himalayas for the rest of my life. The middle ground for me, the perfect balance between the extremes, comes in the form of hill walking. I’m not alone.
This morning, an accord between National Parks England and Public Health England was announced to support joint action on improving health and wellbeing through our national parks. This accord was launched by Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health in the South Downs National Park.
The Peak District, nestled between Sheffield and Manchester, was Britain’s first National Park and is a pleasingly appropriate analogy for this article. Often divided into Dark Peak and White Peak, from dramatic heather moorland hills and rock edges in the north to limestone dales and rivers in the south, it’s all just one Peak District. If there’s a dividing line on the hills, I’ve never noticed it under my feet.
“This accord is a win-win. Not only does it help preserve our beautiful national parks, but encourages people to get active, adding years to our lives and saving billions of pounds for our NHS.
“Physical activity helps to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. So I am delighted to help launch this Accord, and I cannot think of a better place to get active than in our National Parks.”
~Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health in the South Downs National Park
So why not go walking this weekend and nurture your mind and body? Hopefully we’ll see you out in the Peaks, but if you’re too far away, you can’t go far wrong with any of the ten National Parks in England. You can find the one closest to you here.