Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week has been running this week from May 18 to 24.

The Mental Health Foundation have highlighted that mental health problems can affect anyone, at any time. They believe that mental health is everyone’s business. For one week each May, the foundation campaigns around a specific theme for Mental Health Awareness Week, with this year’s being ‘kindness’.

Bridie Sweeney, Centre Co-ordinator at The Aisling Centre, a counselling, psychotherapy and well-being service based in Enniskillen, commented that it’s no coincidence that kindness has been chosen as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

“Research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness and mental health are deeply connected.

But when we talk about kindness, kindness to self is often overlooked,” shared Bridie.

She explained that many people find it easy to extend kindness toward others but, kindness or compassion for self is often over-looked and it is much harder to practice: “Self-compassion is the ability to show yourself the same understanding, acceptance and love that you would show others.

Self-compassion is not an act of selfishness or self-pity; in fact self-compassion can help promote emotional well-being and relieve stress or anxiety. Compassion is about recognising our common humanity; no-one is perfect and we all experience challenges in our lives.”

“So if you are only able to practice one act of kindness this week let it be self-kindness, don’t be too harsh in your judgement of yourself,” Bridie encouraged.

When asked what impact the pandemic and isolation can have on a person’s mental health, Bridie said: “Changes in life circumstances, (especially situations like Covid-19 which are outside our control), can create a stressful time which will affect us all to some extent.

The new realities of working from home, employment concerns, home-schooling, social distancing etc take time to get used to. Adapting to these lifestyle changes while managing fear about the virus and concerns for the people close to us are challenging for all.”

Bridie noted that in these uncertain and worrying times, feelings of stress and worry are normal. Offering advice on how to deal with these feelings, she said: “In the first instance the best way for us to deal with the normal worries and stresses is to speak to those people who are part of our everyday lives – even if just by phone for the time being.”

She continued: “However, long-term they can be harmful and can adversely impact your emotional well-being and may lead to some people experiencing mental health problems. It is important to recognise the signs and symptoms and take action early. The first and often easiest point of contact will be your GP or one of the many good organisations that exist locally who can offer help and support.”

“It can also help to take preventative action and there are any number of online resources and classes readily available at this time to help people manage stress and anxiety,” Bridie added.

Commenting that the term ‘social distancing’ is perhaps a little misleading, Bridie said: “What we actually need to do is maintain a safe physical distance.

It is more important than ever that we maintain our social connections with our family and friends. We are fortunate that it has never been easier to stay in touch even when we are far apart.”

“Keep in touch - Make that call so that the people you love know that you are there if they want to talk. Listen - You don’t have to fix things or offer advice, by just listening and acknowledging that this is a difficult time you can help someone cope or not feel so alone. Ask questions - If you are worried that someone is not sharing the full picture with you, ask again with interest and without judgement.

Signpost. If you are concerned about someone encourage them to contact the GP, a trusted service or a helpline. Look after yourself - You can’t support anyone else if you allow yourself to become emotionally and physically drained,” advised Bridie.

Sharing a few simple messages and examples of what people can do to help maintain good mental health during this challenging time, Bridie listed:

Try and maintain a routine eg a regular time for getting up/going to bed, getting dressed in the morning, regular meal times, time for work, time for rest etc.

Stay active (mentally and physically), include exercise as part of your daily routine and if possible get some fresh air. Do something fun. Make time to do something that makes you smile every day.

Maintain social contact. Even if movement is restricted we can still stay in contact by phone etc.

Minimise newsfeed. Constant and repetitive news can cause stress, anxiety or worry. Limit the number of times you check updates and make sure you are getting your information from a reliable source.

Be kind to yourself and others.

Everything doesn’t have to be done today. Give credit for what has been done and tomorrow is another day.

Ask for help, this is a difficult time for everyone. If you can’t talk to someone close to you contact your GP or one of the many good local services or helplines available.

Lifeline service is available 24/7 for anyone in distress or despair – 0808 808 8000.

Breath. Try some basic relaxation exercises.

The Aisling Centre are also continuing to support the community at this time.

“We are providing a telephone/e-counselling service and we are accepting new referrals for counselling. To self-refer download the referral from our website – or ring us on 028 6632 5811,” shared Bridie.

“I would just like to say thank you to the community for their support of The Aisling Centre. This is a particularly difficult time for small local charities. So sincere thanks to all who are organising fundraising activities on our behalf and those who have made donations through our Local Giving page.

Your donations are enabling us to continue to support your family and friends during this crisis,” Bridie concluded.