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keeping life in focus...

Do you take as much care of your mental health as you do of your physical health? We’ve all had years of advice on how to eat healthily, those five or seven pieces of fruit and veg a day; exercise for that minimum of 20 minutes 3 times a week; watch your sugars and your fats; don’t eat too much red meat; it can all get very confusing but maybe it’s having an impact? Mental health has been the hidden illness for decades and has only recently begun to gain a higher presence in the media bringing it to the forefront of society. Shockingly the statistics connected to the decline of your mental health make hard reading. British men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives and with suicide rates in young people continuing to grow each year it is time we all found ways to ensure looking after our mental health is a top priority.

There is no stigma, or there shouldn’t be, attached to suffering from a mental health illness, but it is still a hard subject to broach with friends and family and especially your employers. As more and more people begin to tell their stories it will hopefully become just another ‘illness’ that you may suffer from during your lifetime and we can all try to see the symptoms of someone’s suffering and maybe help them find a way through it.

It makes good practise to watch your mental health and if you feel yourself declining try to take steps to support yourself as you would with any illness. Sometime that’s just not possible and as a society we need to learn how to spot the sign of someone in distress and support them as best we can until they are feeling more capable.

For me, when a low mood begins, I find a release of sorts in being outdoors with my camera. Solitude and peace help me to try and cope with the state of whatever is happening in my mind. It is not always an easy thing to pick the camera up and go outside – sometimes the easier  choice is just to stay inside and hide away from the world and all the problems in it, but thankfully I have always found the strength to take myself outside and once there my love of photography takes over and for a few hours at least I manage to forget whatever turmoil is currently clouding my thoughts.

Lifting yourself out of a low mental state is not always this simple, but photography helps me to cope with life at times when I feel that I can’t and as I read of yet another closed bridge, another ‘police incident’ how I wish that these people could find a way to get through their suffering and stay.

And what about Social Media? Is it really to blame for the decline in the state of our mental health? It’s certainly sometimes hard to distinguish between real life and the digital world. Maybe it feels that your ‘friends’ have so much as you strive to just keep afloat. Loneliness sets in as you watch everyone surrounded by friends enjoying their lives. Photoshopped images causing you to yearn for a perfect body and lifestyle. Addictions to the number of likes you gain – after all doesn’t the number of likes reflect your popularity? Instagram is currently experimenting with the removal of ‘likes’ from posts. Will that change social media for the better?

Negativity abounds on social media – internet ‘trolls’ bullying and harassing, the spread of extremism on all sides, horrific comments, death threats. The anonymity it provides offers a haven which incites some people to adopt personas that are probably far removed from their real-life roles. Would they make these comments to someone’s face? I doubt it, so why do they feel it is acceptable to do it via a keyboard?

But isn’t there also a positivity there that was certainly missing from my younger years? How many school friends are you still in touch with? Who picked the phone up to telephone anyone when we were younger? Friendships just drifted away when circumstances changed but thanks to social media it is now so much easier to maintain contact with important people in your life. There are no barriers of distance to stop you from sharing a message or a post or maybe even a video call. Relationships formed via online dating are now much less likely to end in divorce than one formed the conventional way. Social media puts you in touch with similar people who share mutual hobbies and interests – Instagram and twitter both have thriving communities of photographers offering advice and sharing tips. Strong ‘online’ friendships sometimes result as part of these communities. Will you ever meet up? Maybe not but there is pleasure to be gained by messages of support and mutual respect and by sharing your lives through your photographs.

Resilience is the current ‘buzz’ word to help us all cope. We must build resilience to help us to overcome issues that affect our mental health. Toughen up and learn how to handle the ups and the downs. The older generation would almost certainly tell you to ‘pull yourself together’ – after all there’s nothing in your life that could possibly be making you sad -look around don’t you have everything you want and need? But true depression and anxiety has no reason or rules. You’re not responsible for these feelings – you’re ill and just like with any illness you need time and support. Looking after yourself – your ‘wellbeing’ – should be something we are encouraged to do from a very early age but sadly we live in a society of constant pressure and stresses and strains in people’s lives. More cars on the road make commutes longer and harder. Unreliable transport systems lead to long hard days leaving hardly any time to relax. An expectation to work above and beyond your working hours whilst maintaining perfect health – pity the person who incurs the wrath of the work sickness policy.

The lack of community spirit leads to social isolation and loneliness and look at that social media again – isn’t everyone having so much more fun than you?

From a very early age the pressures of life begin - families paying for tutors to get their children through primary school tests, exams after exams after exams followed by crippling student debts and a glut of people with degrees making your career route much more difficult. Parents having to work full time to keep their families afloat; trying to bring up children whilst supporting their elderly parents; bills going up much quicker than wages; politics going mad; BREXIT, BREXIT, BREXIT…It’s no surprise that across the country everyone’s mental health is suffering.

The path to mental peace and calm is not an easy one. What works for one person might not for another. Just like a cold that turns into pneumonia some people need more help than others. You may be strong for a while then slip back into anxiety and depression for no apparent reason. Friends and family may not notice – everyone wants to appear ‘strong’ to the world and it’s a difficult decision to reveal your pain and suffering.

We manage to stay afloat supporting each other, but contrary to what you might think if you read our blog or visit our social media accounts, our life is not perfect. Many a comment comes our way envying the life we lead, the places we visit, the ‘fun’ we have. Our photos reflect the best times of our lives and, thankfully we have plenty of those, but we don’t spend every day out with our cameras, visiting spectacular places in the sunshine. Like most other people our lives mainly consist of working to earn the money to do the nice things; supporting our family as they work through their individual periods of stress. We have suffered times of great sadness and loss, had close family involved in very difficult and traumatic situations, wondered how we’d pay the next bill that arrived through the door – all of which have shaped us as life seems to momentarily spiral out of control.There have been periods of my life when anxiety has ruled; when the feeling of pointlessness has overridden every other feeling in my head. When the vice like feeling of everything around you squeezing conspires to make you want to run as far away as possible, but I am much stronger than I think. My camera comes out, my walking boots usually follow, and I walk and walk and walk. Nature calms me. Photography soothes me. I take pleasure in taking a photograph I love and if it is just me that loves it then that is fine.​

So, take the time to check on your friends and family, work colleagues who pass you by, the neighbour who lives alone. But ensure you are also checking your own mental health, finding time each day to think of yourself. Enjoy the sunny days and get through the darker ones and remember it might be a cliche, but it really is ‘OK not to be Ok.’. Just tell someone and stand together.



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