7 Alternative Mental Health Hacks Young Women Are Trying
The Debrief: When it comes to mental health there's no quick fix or one-size-fits-all here, so figure out what combination of self-care, medication, and/or therapy works best for you.
Illustration by Joey Pasco
If you've ever been to your GP with a mental health concern, only to be fobbed off with three months worth of Prozac and a seemingly endless waiting list for counselling, you probably already know that mental health care in the UK is in crisis. In fact, it's so bad that a report published last month found a mind-blowing 75 per cent of people with mental health problems are currently not receiving treatment .
The report, published by the government's mental health taskforce, criticised the 'chronic' underfunding of evidence-based mental health care, prompting the government to pledge an extra £1bn annual investment in mental health care by 2020-21. But, short of spending a small fortune on private therapy, what can you actually do about it now, in 2016, while you're waiting for that treatment?
Perhaps borne out of necessity, the last few years have seen a massive explosion of interest in self-care. Of course it isn't, and shouldn't be, an alternative to proper mental health care, but young women in particular seem more conscious than ever of our own emotional wellbeing, trying out everything from mindfulness colouring books to therapeutic trapeze classes. We asked some young women which techniques work best for them.
1. Getting active
I know, I know: this is the last thing you feel like doing when you're depressed – but trust me when I say the endorphins really can help. Finding a workout you actually enjoy is key to keeping you motivated on bad mental health days.
For 26-year-old Jaime, hiking is the most soothing way to calm the distressing, intrusive thoughts of violence and self-harm that come with her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 'It's so nice to just walk, and not think about life besides the trail you're taking and the friends you're with,' she says.
Louise*, who's 27, suffers from insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. 'Exercise is my therapy,' she says. 'While medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) have helped to a degree, I need to exercise regularly to give my mind a rest from the worries and panic.' Her workout regime combines yoga, pilates, running and weights, and she adds: 'I'm definitely more anxious and on edge when I haven't exercised.'
2. Getting Zen
Besides providing great physical exercise, there's also plenty written about the more meditative elements of both yoga and pilates, and the emotional benefits of relaxation, deep breathing, and techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and aromatherapy.
Amy, who's 29, has suffered from depression and anxiety since her young daughter was three months old, and says relaxation has been a key part of keeping her emotions on an even keel. 'Yoga and meditation help me to re-focus and re-balance. My mind is so busy all the time, I just need something to bring me back down to earth,' she explains.
3. Getting a pet
This might not be your landlord's preferred option, but research shows spending time around animals can be great for relieving stress, anxiety and depression . If you can't get away with a pet in your rented flat, why not sign up to look after someone else's through services like Cat In A Flat, Pawshake or Borrow my Doggy? Or combine your animal interaction with getting active, like 27-year-old Anna*, who leaves London once a week to go horse riding for the sake of her mental health.
4. Getting focused
26-year-old Izzy, who suffers from depression and anxiety, tells us focusing on concentration-intensive maths problems or Sudoku puzzles provides her with a form of distraction when she feels overwhelmed by her anxiety.
For Lottie, who's also 26 and affected by Borderline (or Emotionally Unstable) Personality Disorder (BPD), getting creative really helps. For her, concentrating on drawing, crafts and music are all ways of detaching herself, expressing her feelings, and taking her mind off things.
'It's a form of escapism,' she says. 'I sometimes get so low that I feel suicidal and, although it's tough, I always try to distract myself. It sounds daft because I know it doesn't fix my problems, but it just gives me an escape.'
5. Keeping track
If you're hooked on your FitBit and can't stop documenting your day on Instagram, it's also worth checking out the wealth of emerging tech innovations, including apps like Moodbug and Moodnotes, designed to help you track your mental health and develop strategies for coping.
24-year-old Rachel prefers a more old skool format, and finds keeping a diary really helps to keep her anxiety under control. 'I write about any and every topic I think about, and I love it because it allows me to process my thoughts, step back, and figure out why I'm feeling a certain way, instead of being irrationally afraid or overwhelmed by whatever's happening in my life,' she says.
6. Spending time with yourself
Borislava, who's also 24, manages her mental health by making time for a weekly tech-free break on her own. 'I turn my phone off and go for a walk; go outside and read a book; do something I enjoy; or simply lay in bed with a cup of green tea and listen to my favourite songs. It really relaxes me, and I always feel great afterwards,' she says.
Likewise, for Izzy, listening and responding to her body is a must for learning how to regain some control over her mental health. 'Depression is exhausting; sometimes it is best to nap!' she says. 'Also, making plans for myself rather than depending on other people – that way I'm not constantly fretting about them.'
7. Mixing it up
As with all mental health treatments, there's no quick fix or one-size-fits-all here, so psych yourself up for a bit of trial and error until you figure out what combination of self-care, medication, and/or therapy works best for you. For Izzy, the most important thing is 'lots of self-care, and actually factoring that in to every day, rather than just doing it when I'm feeling depressed.'
If you are suffering from mental health problems check out the resources and advice available from Mind. In a crisis, call the Samaritans on 116 123, or your local community mental health crisis team. Your GP should always be your first port of call and will be able to discuss treatment options that are available to you on the NHS.
*Some names have been changed
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