Mental health challenges are ever present in all corners of the globe, but even more so as we continue to live through the coronavirus pandemic.
As the world moves through another challenging month of 2020, 18-24 May marks Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme set by the Mental Health Foundation is “kindness”.
Kindness describes a behavioural response of compassion and actions that are deemed ‘selfless’, or a mindset that places compassion for others before their own.
Levels of anxiety are beginning to spike once again as different parts of the world begin the transition from lockdown to a “new normal” - bringing new uncertainties and daily challenges to the forefront.
Change and uncertainty are common sources of stress, anxiety and triggers for people with mental health conditions.
Newly-established routines which have helped many cope during strict lockdown could be disrupted; the practicalities of returning to work, financial futures and the reality of a socially distanced life may heighten anxiety further.
Mental health charities including, Beat - eating disorders charity, are already seeing the impact of uncertainties on their support helpline.
It seems there has never been a more vital time to recognise the importance of kindness in society.
Even science says that random acts of kindness are good for your health.
There are various studies that demonstrate that kindness and mental health are closely linked.
Scientists say that random acts of kindness releases hormones that can contribute to positive mood and overall well-being.
A 2010 Harvard University study on happiness involving 136 countries found that people who are altruistic and charitable were the happiest overall - meaning being kind seemingly can really make a difference to your life.
Research on the science behind why kindness makes us feel good often focuses on the hormone oxytocin, according to Dr Waguish William Ishak, Professor of psychiatry at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
Sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, oxytocin plays a role in helping to form social bonds and developing trust in other people. Witnessing acts of kindness is said to aid the production of oxytocin, which can help in lowering blood pressure and overall heart health.
Studies have also linked random acts of kindness to releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that can give us a feeling of euphoria. Alongside boosting oxytocin and dopamine, being kind can also increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.
Kindness has an “ability to unlock our sense of shared community”, something that is especially important as we continue to live through the current coronavirus pandemic, said MHF chief executive Mark Rowland in a statement.
“Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity,” he continued.
According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centres light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed - rather than the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
Beyond showing kindness to others, it’s also important to show kindness to yourself. This could be asking for help when you need it, or allowing enough time in your schedule for self-care.
Mental Health Awareness Week is a vital time in the year to bring mental health to the forefront of conversation and a great opportunity to emphasise the goodness that kindness brings to society.
The Mental Health Foundation is asking people to reflect on their experiences of kindness over the next week during Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and share their stories on social media using the hashtags #kindnesschallenge and #mentalhealthawarenessweek
Mental Health Awareness week has been hosted by the Mental Health Foundation for the last 20 years.
Mental health always matters, no matter what month, week or day - try to always be kind.
Some useful links
Mind Charity (UK): mental health support and advice.
Samaritans (UK): Emotional support for anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland: support line: 116 123
Befrienders Worldwide: Worldwide support for anyone facing emotional distress, at risk of suicide or supporting someone at risk.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): suicide prevention charity, providing support for men across the UK: helpline 0800 58 58 58 nationwide (UK), 5pm-midnight 365 days per year.
Beat: UK based eating disorder charity that provides support including a helpline: 0808 801 0677 (12pm–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays) and an online-web chat for anyone in the UK affected by an eating disorder.