MENTAL Health Awareness Week is a sorely needed yearly event that gives us an opportunity to stop and be mindful of not only our own mental health but that of others.

This whole week is a chance to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness, reduce stigma, and promote mental health wellness. The theme changes every year, and this year it is anxiety.

Unfortunately, as a sufferer of anxiety I know the impact only too well, but it’s important to know that help is available, treatments can work, and you are not alone.

I hope speaking out about struggles with anxiety can also be a powerful way to reduce stigma and encourage others to seek help.

By sharing experiences, it can help to break down barriers to seeking help and promote a more open and accepting conversation about mental health. Anxiety is a normal and natural human response to stress.

It is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe and can be a helpful response in certain situations, such as preparing for a test or a job interview.

However, when anxiety becomes excessive and begins to interfere with daily life, it can be considered a mental health disorder.

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Anxiety can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and interfere with daily activities such as work, school, and relationships, and can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue.

It can also increase the risk of developing other mental health disorders such as depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.

But anxiety disorders can be treatable and effective treatments include medication, therapy, and self-help strategies.

Some of these strategies I find very helpful. For example exercise, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation and lifestyle changes – such as getting enough sleep and reducing my caffeine and alcohol intake.

I have found that journal writing is a way in which I can get my thoughts out on paper and make sense of them. Sometimes I can see that my anxieties are outwith my control, and when that happens, I can accept it, and make the best of what I can control.

I also find that practising self-care is essential to me. It is important to prioritise yourself, run the bath, add nice scents, and snuggle with your pet – anything to make you feel good. It doesn’t have to cost money.

Going for a walk is such a cliche and often mocked as too simple a “prescription”, but it can help, even if it’s just to keep the body moving to counter the jitters from adrenaline.

Along with individual efforts to manage anxiety though, it is important for society to prioritise mental health and make changes to better support those who are struggling. This includes policy changes to adapt work and social environments to be more caring and supportive of mental health.

In the workplace, employers can implement policies which can include offering mental health benefits, such as counselling or therapy sessions, and providing flexible work arrangements to accommodate the needs of employees who may be struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues.

Employers can also create a culture of open communication and support, where employees feel comfortable discussing mental health concerns and seeking help without fear of stigma or negative consequences.

It is also important for us as policy-makers to prioritise mental health in healthcare policies, ensuring smooth access to mental health services and making sure that there is parity of support for mental health alongside physical health.

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One way to promote good mental health is by reducing stress and promoting a sense of security. In societies where there are greater levels of economic inequality, individuals may experience greater levels of stress and anxiety related to financial insecurity.

This can have long-term impacts on mental health, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.

The cost of living crisis has come straight on the back of a global pandemic. And while we are navigating a political scene which has hindered and not helped any of it, it has been extremely challenging and will continue to be for many years to come.

This is one of the many reasons I support a health and wellbeing economy, when we put the health of citizens above economic benefit it promotes long-term economic prosperity by protecting the wellbeing of individuals and society as a whole.

By implementing policies that prioritise public health, governments can help to promote a healthier, more equitable society that is better able to withstand challenges and thrive in the long term.

Living in a more equal society where human rights are valued first can have a positive impact on mental health. Social determinants such as income, employment, education, and social support networks can all influence mental health outcomes.

In societies where there are greater levels of equality and access to resources, individuals may be more likely to experience good mental health.

In more equal societies, there may also be greater access to social support networks, which can provide a sense of community and belonging that can be protective for mental health.

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Social support networks can provide emotional and practical support during times of stress or difficulty, helping individuals to cope with challenges and promoting a sense of resilience; we see this in initiatives such as the Men’s Shed.

It is important to recognise that achieving greater equality and promoting human rights is a complex and ongoing process.

It requires addressing systemic barriers and working to create inclusive policies and practices that support the mental health and wellbeing of all individuals.

I can see in Scotland how we are already advancing in this direction, and for the good health and wellbeing of all of us, I hope to see one day our country thrive independently because of the choices we made to make it happen.