Mental Health and Physical
The views of HUG on the
relationship between physical and mental health and what can keep
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of
What is HUG?
HUG stands for the Highland Users Group, which is a network of
people who use, or have used, mental health services in the
Highlands. At present, HUG has 343 members and 13 branches across
the Highlands. HUG has been in existence now for 11 years. HUG
wants people with mental health problems to live without
discrimination and to be equal partners in their communities. They
should be respected for their diversity and who they are.
For more information please visit their website at: www.hug.uk.net
Members of HUG have often talked about physical health and mental
health and the need to look at the two issues together. This is due
to the fact that sometimes our members have expressed concern that
their physical illnesses are not acknowledged, sometimes because
one affects the other (and is not always picked up on) and
sometimes because we know that physical exercise and fitness has a
good effect on our mental health and wellbeing.
In 2007 a number of HUG members separately asked us to look at this
topic in one of the rounds of HUG meetings where we meet in our
branches across the Highlands. As usual we met throughout our
network and held informal discussions guided by a series of prompt
questions to stimulate debate. These meetings were all written up
and the notes provided the basis for this report, which has in turn
been approved by the HUG Round Table committee.
In total 84 people participated in the meetings.
The connection between physical
health and mental health
We had unanimous agreement that poor physical health can cause poor
mental health and vice versa.
Many of us said that when we look at our health we should look at
the whole subject of ‘mind, body and spirit’ in which all elements
are connected and in which each feature affects the other.
- “Everything is
connected; stress, grief, employment and so on all affect physical
and mental illness.”
Some of us went as far as saying that we would be better off
abandoning the division between mental and physical illness. Just
because a mental illness is in the head doesn’t stop it being as
much an illness as any other type of illness. Some of us said that
mental illness and physical illness are really the same and that
the division we make between the two is an artificial and sometimes
unhelpful one. Following from this there was a common statement
that we need to look at people more holistically; that we need to
treat the ‘whole person’ not just one aspect of their being.
When we looked at our physical health we came up with a number of
examples that illustrate these points. If we are in constant pain
then this almost inevitably means that we are going to suffer
emotionally and may indeed develop mental illnesses as a
If we are chronically or terminally ill then our mental health will
at the very least be at risk. If physical illness causes mobility
problems we can become very isolated and lonely and may have
difficulty with the everyday tasks that enhance our wellbeing. Any
illness that affects our ability to function normally can reduce
our wellbeing and lead onto mental illness.
Malnutrition has an impact on people’s mental health just as it
does on their physical health.
Even a simple cold is likely to make us miserable and therefore it
is no surprise to realise that more serious physical illnesses can
have an adverse affect on our mental health. Being ‘out of shape,’
maybe having problems getting upstairs or doing anything very
active, perhaps being disfigured can all create a poor self-image
and mean that our mental health suffers.
Sometimes our physical illnesses make us tired and listless and
make it difficult to sleep, which will almost inevitably have a
poor affect on our mental health and our general ability to
- “If you are
physically fit then you are more likely to be mentally
- “Pain can stop
you working that also makes you less well; it’s all
- “If you’re
feeling crap you don’t have the same motivation to look after
- “I have a problem
with my hands and shoulders; I can just drop a cup, it gets really
frustrating and depressing.”
Having a physical disability may cause great distress - using a
wheelchair may reduce the contact we have with other people and
make us deeply unhappy. Coming to terms with having a physical
disability can also be a difficult and distressing process.
Equally having a mental illness can cause physical illness and
again the two are very much connected. We know that many signs of
physical illness are in fact partly stimulated and connected to
mental ill health, for instance, we believe that eczema, and
psoriasis can often be exacerbated by anxiety and stress.
We believe that depressive illnesses may make physical illnesses
worse and make it harder to recover from them.
Many of us were keen to point out that the medication that we take
to help us with our mental health often has side effects that have
a negative impact on our physical health; they may cause obesity,
kidney damage, diabetes, muscle cramp and a host of other
conditions which mean that we need to judge for ourselves the need
to take medication to preserve our mental health as opposed to the
damage it may do to our physical health.
- “I’ve put on a
stone every year I’ve been on olanzapine - I’ve put on about ten
For some of us our mental illness manifests itself in signs of
- “When I am in
crisis I get poor physical health, my legs go and I lose control in
- “I have chest
pain because of depression, but it doesn’t ease the
- “When I was first
ill I was so ill that I couldn’t stand up or
The effect of our mental illness may mean that we find it hard to
care for ourselves and therefore suffer from poor physical
- “If you are stuck
at home, not getting exercise, you don’t feel like eating, or if
you do you don’t cook for yourself, your physical health decreases
- you lose weight, your mental health decreases, it spirals down,
you have less vitamins. The more you go down the less you do - you
just want to sleep or be in bed or not go out.”
Poor mental health can mean that routine tasks such as shopping and
cooking become impossible, we can lose the motivation to do
anything and cease to care about ourselves or anything else, which
will inevitably have a bad effect on our physical health and
We may neglect ourselves and this can include ceasing physical
activity but also many of us may smoke and drink and take drugs as
a way of dealing with our emotional pain. Equally, if we are high
and manic we may indulge in unhealthy activities with little
awareness of the consequences of what we are doing. We can isolate
ourselves, eat poorly, sleep poorly, stop eating and cease to care
about our hygiene and physical appearance. We can lose confidence
and withdraw from friends and family and this can also lead to poor
We also believe that stress and anxiety can have a bad effect on
our immune system which will also affect our physical health.
- “It’s not just
mental health it’s also physical health, for instance panic attacks
and agoraphobia. It affects the appetite, if you are not able to go
out or are just lying in bed. On the inside it feels really bad. It
definitely affects us physically.”
How do medical professionals
deal with our physical health?
As might be expected the response we get when we seek help with our
physical health is mixed. Many of us have fantastic doctors and
others find them less helpful.
- “My doctor is on
the ball and picks up on things, he is very
- “My doctor is
great, I don’t have to go to reception; she makes it easier as I
can’t face reception.”
- “I have a
fantastic doctor who looks at physical health and mental
However, we felt that it was sometimes hard to make appointments to
see doctors who are very popular and that seeing alternative
doctors could be difficult as they didn’t know us. We also felt
that they often didn’t have the time to deal with what can be
Many of us did, however, report that there were times when our
physical problems were not picked up on, were dismissed or seen as
signs of mental illness. On occasion this was frustrating and at
other times meant that serious medical problems were not dealt with
promptly. On other occasions when we are in general hospital our
physical health is dealt with well but there is limited recognition
of our mental health.
- “… you got to the
doctor, you’re low, you’ve no energy, you’re tired. The doctor asks
how’s your mood? How’s my mood? I’ve come with a physical
In some cases there was a very poor reaction from staff:
- “They wouldn’t
accept that the pain I experienced (when in hospital) was physical.
It took a psychiatrist to say they were wrong before they gave me
morphine. I begged for help and took panic attacks because of the
pain. I couldn’t cope. They said there was nothing wrong. They saw
my reaction to pain as threatening and the protocol was to phone
the police. I couldn’t believe it. They said if you get into
trouble again we will have you arrested. Once it was settled that I
really had a physical problem the nurses were really
- “I was in
hospital but they didn’t treat me the same as other people; there
was no compassion.”
We do feel that on occasion professionals make their minds up
before they have even heard from us and that they can be dismissive
and patronising and imply that we should just put up with the
problems we have.
When admitted to psychiatric hospital there are almost always
physical health checks but some of us feel that once that is done
the physical side to our condition is seen as less important.
Sometimes people reported that doctors started off trying to find
the cause of a physical problem but as soon as they realised there
was a psychiatric history abandoned their treatment. In other
situations people reported that they seemed to make up their minds
based on their knowledge of our mental illness rather than seeming
to make a serious effort to find out the cause of our current ill
We did recognise that on many occasions our physical symptoms did
turn out to be psychosomatic but resented the fact that this was
then seen as less important. If we are in considerable pain it
still needs to be dealt with whether it is a product of our mind or
our body. Having our symptoms dismissed because they have a
psychological cause made many of us guilty and angry and sometimes
put us off seeking help in the future. We also felt that the way a
person deals with illness, whatever its cause, can alter how we
perceive what is happening to us and may influence the outcome of
We felt that it was important that just because our illness was
psychosomatic that we didn’t have to feel that it was our fault or
that we were wrong to seek help. We felt that sometimes this
attitude was an example of prejudice:
- “Even if the
physical illness is mental illness, it needs to be recognised. This
is an example of stigma.”
- “They should
never ignore physical illness even if it has a mental
- “I thought I was
dying and having a brain haemorrhage or a heart attack; they should
be dealing with it anyway.”
On occasion we have mixed results:
- “I went in to see
the doctor for a physical problem and as a result he picked up on
my mental health problem which I hadn’t told him about. I got
treated for my mental health problem which was good but the
physical illness was ignored.”
Because we often lack confidence and can have low self-esteem we
may be very ready to pick up on anything that dismisses us. We
sometimes go into the surgery assuming that everything will be put
down to our mental illness. We may convince ourselves that not only
is our physical illness imaginary but so is our psychiatric
illness. This can alter the way we interact with professionals. It
can also mean that we need to be better at describing what is
happening to us.
- “…. it doesn’t
stop me from feeling like a liar when I speak to
- “I don’t feel
confident of it being taken seriously.”
We do worry that psychiatrists deal with our mental health and
other people, especially GP’s, deal with our physical health; the
very fact that there is this division can create problems where
different aspects of our health are left to different people and
some conditions and issues can end up being lost. We also feel that
if we have other disabilities such as a learning disability or
visual impairment then people tend to concentrate on one
impairment, sometimes at the expense of the other problems.
- “Physical health
is not a priority for a psychiatrist and mental health not for GP’s
- they are not prepared to go into each others field if they are
not confident and therefore they miss stuff.”
Sometimes we can become quite obsessed with our physical health as
a result of our mental ill health which can create difficulties and
may result in doctors refusing to see us at all.
Some of us felt that it could be good if community mental health
services were located in the same place as physical health
Physical health checks
We believe that many of our members would be described as having
severe and enduring mental illness and should therefore be offered
regular health checks by their GP’s for their physical health.
- The great majority of
our members did not recall being offered these checks. This is
confusing as the data from NHS Highland appears to demonstrate the
On a different, but worrying note, some of us thought that the
medicals we received when having a medical examination to review
our benefits were provided to pick up on any physical illness we
might have rather than being solely a way of assessing our
entitlement to benefits.
Some of us already have regular checks when we visit the surgery
anyway and others attend well woman and well men clinics.
Most of us felt that offering us regular health checks would be a
very good idea but a few of us disagreed. This was because some of
us didn’t like seeing doctors and did our very best to avoid seeing
them. But there was also a view expressed that some of us resented
the fact that doctors would gain extra income by providing these
checks and that checks shouldn’t be offered purely because of
mental illness. Instead, a more effective way of picking up on any
aspect of ill health would be to offer a medical for anyone who
hadn’t been seen for a long time by a doctor.
In the Bruce Gardens Day Centre there is an offer of regular health
checks which is appreciated by clients who attend. There is also
the offer of a health check when admitted to New Craigs
We have since discussed the availability of health checks with NHS
Highland and now understand that a very high proportion of people
with severe and enduring mental health problems do have physical
checks and health promotion related advice but that this can occur
as part of routine appointments where they may not necessarily be
aware that there is a deliberate attempt to look at physical
health. This is welcome but we would like to make it clear that for
some people a specific appointment to look at their physical health
can be welcome and that people who don’t fit into the severe and
enduring bracket may also be at risk of poor physical health.
Why do we think that people
with a mental illness are more likely to be physically
Most of us felt that we did tend to be less healthy than the
general population. We felt that generally we often had a poor
diet, didn’t exercise enough and tended to drink and smoke too
The reasons we had for this varied but included some of the
Our illness in its different manifestations can make it hard for us
to take responsibility for our health and may encourage unhealthy
activities, for instance depression can cause us to lose our
appetite. It can also mean that we lose our energy, the desire to
do anything including getting out of bed. We may lose the desire to
make any effort to look after ourselves.
The medication that helps with mental illness not only contributes
to poor physical health but it can also sedate us which makes it
harder for us to keep active and motivated.
- “My daughter was
captain of games at school and a good mountaineer. But in two years
she couldn’t cross the road because of
Anxiety and illness and boredom can make comfort-eating, smoking
and drinking very attractive. In many ways many of the things we do
that are seen as unhealthy make us feel better, at least in the
short-term. It is also often the easiest thing to do.
Many of us are single and alone which makes it much harder to take
responsibility for ourselves and stops us being looked after by a
partner or family members.
At its most basic, illness means we can’t be bothered to look after
- “…if I no longer
had agoraphobia then I would go out swimming and cycling but now I
can’t see people.”
- “Illness takes
away your drive.”
We may have so little belief in ourselves that we think that we
don’t deserve to be healthy; we may feel that we are a burden and
deserve to be punished. We may just not see any point in trying to
We may find it impossible to get out of the house or find healthy
activities too expensive to afford.
However, some of us also said that much of the rest of the
population is not physically healthy and wondered why we, as a
group, were being specifically targeted to become healthy.
Some of us said that health and wellbeing is variable and there is
no set route to wellbeing; that forcing ourselves to be fit can
create pressure and stress whilst just being ourselves and being
content with who we are even if we aren’t that fit and may be a bit
overweight may be preferable to the constant battle to improve
Some of us have multiple problems and these can include a variety
of addictions. Dealing with these and the lifestyle they promote
can make a healthy lifestyle impossible to believe in.
Motivation is also seen as a key element of this:
- “Motivation - if
I didn’t have a support worker I would still be sleeping on the
couch and jeez is it hard to get out of the door, she does it. [for
We can also lose ordinary living skills; basic organisation can
become very difficult and without that it can be hard to get into
the routine of healthy living.
How could we become healthier and do
we want to?
The great majority of us are keen to see people with mental health
problems become more physically healthy but again we said that this
was difficult to achieve because so many of us lack to motivation
and energy to try this out.
- “I’ve just
started weight lifting. Before, I was not so fit, but I got
scunnered by the sight of myself in the mirror. I’ve started to do
something to lose weight now. Before I wasn’t bothered. I didn’t
want to impress people
- “I have an
occupational therapist who is also getting me into Tai Chi,
creative arts and relaxation. She also encourages me to get out
into the community to do stuff.”
However, we did have a wide range of suggestions about what could
improve physical health - this included the following:
Many GP’s have provided “prescriptions for exercise” over the last
few years where people are given free access to gym facilities.
This is a welcome move especially when we are given help to use
- “Prescription for
health is good; my CPN got me doing it. It got me to the gym. I
built up bulk and felt good. I became fit, I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t
have been able to do it without the support of my
For many of us one of the key ways of getting healthy again is by
using support networks such as fellow users or friends and family
who will encourage us in these ventures.
- “Get a group
together, then we can motivate each other into doing
Just trying it out can be very satisfying:
- “The experience
of going for a swim, the release of doing something pleasurable;
it’s a hundred percent worth it.”
When we are patients in New Craigs the activities that are offered
by occupational therapy and physiotherapy are very welcome but
there is some concern that there are not enough of them available
and that we have to make the effort to get involved instead of
being encouraged to participate.
Different activities, ranging from Tai Chi to gym to relaxation,
help us a great deal and learning them in the safety of New Craigs,
where we can express emotion that may not be accepted in a
community setting, is appreciated. Equally the garden in New Craigs
and at the Gardener’s Cottage is appreciated. Gardening in general
can be very helpful for some of us.
“The best thing is the comradeship of
fellow patients. If I go into the hospital gym it’s the good
atmosphere that helps. There’s nothing wrong with the hospital. Why
do people assume that using facilities in the hospital is
Anything that would get us motivated to do things that we know will
help us would be welcome. Some of us find that the encouragement of
support workers is a good way of keeping us motivated. Having
access to them makes a great difference.
Simple things like being able to do the house work or to get to a
drop-in centre can make a big difference.
“….things like hoovering - I get down
and only do it if someone is coming along and, as I get down I stop
friends and family visiting. Eventually only the CPN is coming and
I only clean up in the areas I know she’ll see before she
Doing things together can be very good; we can support each other
and encourage each other, we can find that there is a polite
pressure put on us to make the effort to do things we have already
agreed to do. Equally, if we have been through similar experiences
and maybe have similar anxieties to public activity as our
companions we can provide the support to each other that we need to
do these things. The very fact that doing things together can
create friendships also helps us with our wellbeing.
However for some of us there is a great release in doing things by
ourselves and going for walks alone can provide a feeling of
Some of us don’t know what would keep us healthy and need basic
information to help us with this.
Some of us feel that if we just stopped taking our medication we
would become healthier, usually citing olanzapine as the main drug
we would like to stop taking.
Health is not just about physical health it is also about our
emotional health and our spiritual health. Sometimes, although we
want to become healthier, anxiety can make it hard to do so and the
change required hard to achieve:
- “Five fruit and
veg; easy to look at - hard to do
- “It can be
cultural; if you eat pies what is the point of looking at lettuce,
we need a shift in professional attitudes to look at all of
- “Veggie boxes
would be good.”
Some of us had heard of ecotherapy, green gym and other
environmental activities which not only provide exercise, activity
and occupation but also mean that we have company and structure in
our day and are engaged in something that has a use quite apart
from our own health. We felt that such projects could be very
Walking, if we have the motivation, was felt by many of us to be
the most attractive way of getting or keeping fit. Just getting out
in the fresh air and getting exercise away from buildings was
repeatedly mentioned by many of us. However, despite the pleasure
we get from being outside, the Highland climate often stops us
doing things like this. Guided walks are also appreciated by some
of us. Other outdoor activities such as fishing can help a lot
especially when we do them in company.
Equally many of us talked of having pets. Having to look after our
pets and having their company helps us feel good, it reduces stress
and stops our boredom. Dogs need regular exercise which means that
we also get exercise by taking them out. This is a very good way of
giving us the motivation to get outside however we feel and
whatever the weather. This can backfire if we become so ill that we
can no longer provide the care that our pets need from us.
- “My dog gives me
a reason to get up in the morning.”
Although many of us resented taking medication there were others of
us who said that if we had the right treatment (including
medication) to keep well then we would be in better health mentally
and, therefore, in a better position to look after other aspects of
our health. Some of us also thought that there should be more
therapeutic activities based around physical activity and some of
us already participate in this through encouragement from a local
day hospital or drop in service.
Some of us, however, struggle with all of this, taking
responsibility for ourselves is good but, equally, having the
capacity to be responsible can be a difficult task.
Going to a drop-in/resource centre or a TAG (Training and Guidance)
Unit can be very helpful, firstly because of the shared experience
but also because going along makes us get up, get washed and get
occupied and this all promotes our own independence.
There are often activities at such places that promote physical
health, such as the swimming group at The Haven in Wick. Some
drop-in centres/resource centres seem to go out of their way to
promote healthy choices in the food that they provide and in
addition will feature posters about physical activity and exercise.
Others are less proactive in this area. There is a feeling that
such places, if they go about it sensitively and positively, could
play an important role in promoting healthy lifestyles.
If we consciously set out to look after our health then we can set
ourselves goals and simple targets such as going to a shop that is
further away from home. Some of us feel that a great deal of
progress can be made if more of us used pedometers to encourage us
to walk more.
The bus passes that most of us have help a great deal because the
cost of transport stops being a problem, which encourages us to get
out and about. The recent changes to people’s entitlement to bus
passes is therefore a concern.
Simple things can make a huge difference. If we have poor numeracy
or literacy then some activities, such as travelling, can be
difficult to achieve and may mean that we face barriers to healthy
Although there are many subsidies for healthy activity, such as the
Hi Life card, we did have a strong feeling that being active and
healthy is costly and that the majority of us who live off benefits
can find it too expensive to engage in them.
Equally, in rural areas, it can be hard to get to facilities that
Using the gym and eating a healthy diet with less sugar could help
many of us.
Health is also an attitude; sometimes feeling good about ourselves
is as important as what we do with ourselves:
- “I used to be
super fit but it didn’t make me a better person. Why do we have to
- "I now have a gut
but I’m far happier now with who I
- “You have to be
happy with who you are. That is the starting
What stops us using gyms and leisure
There are many reasons that put people off using such places:
Again motivation is a key factor as is the confidence we have in
ourselves to try it out.
Some of us are embarrassed to go; we can be shy in company and may
lack motivation. Many of us see such places as being there for the
young and fit and therefore don’t go. We can find the activities
too difficult or too repetitive and feel very wary of other people
seeing our bodies. Sometimes we are too anxious to go on our own
and have no one else to go with. Sometimes we don’t feel up to the
activities or feel that the staff don’t understand us:
- “I felt really
good when I went to the gym. I used to go at five every day and
used to have one to one sessions with a tutor. When I started going
on my own people realised where I was going and I got embarrassed
as it’s the fit ones who go.”
- “I used to go to
some of their programmes but I felt a failure and couldn’t tell
them so I left.”
We can be particularly wary of people of the other sex seeing our
bodies, especially if we are overweight.
- “I used to go to
the gym but it was full of women so I wasn’t comfortable
- “I wouldn’t go
unless it was ladies only.”
Sometimes we don’t have a lifestyle that would include such
activities and sometimes we don’t feel good enough about
- “I joined the gym
and went once then stopped, mainly because of my drug and alcohol
problems – I was too drunk to
- “I don’t have
good self-esteem, I don’t feel like a part of the community so I
don’t join in.”
For some of us the simple reason that we don’t go is because we
find doing exercise in a gym boring and don’t enjoy it. We can’t
imagine pacing on a treadmill when we could be going out for a
Some of us just have a problem with strangers, crowds and public
spaces. We may be wary of people, worry that they are watching us
or fear that they find us strange.
Many of us said that there are either no facilities near by or that
they are too expensive, although we did appreciate that there was
relatively good access to concessions to offset the cost (although
access to the Hi life card can vary according to the benefits we
- “Once you get
going its good and gets the brain going, but you need other people
to help you. If you are doing it together there’s the pressure of
not letting them down.”
- “I have used it
in the past, it makes me feel better.”
What stops us eating
There are a number of reasons that stop us doing this. The most
obvious to some of us is that many of the foods that are seen as
unhealthy actually taste very nice. Equally some unhealthy foods
are quick to prepare and involve minimum effort.
- “Unhealthy eating
can be a very economic way of cheering us up.”
Other reasons include the fact that some of us don’t know what
healthy food is or how to cook it or even how to cook at all; we
may also be ignorant about how bad for us some foods are. Some of
us have no interest in cooking or if we do have no one to share it
with and therefore little incentive to cook well.
Because many of us have poor self-esteem we can lose the motivation
to want to care for ourselves through the food we eat. In some ways
we can’t be bothered to put care into the food we eat.
Many of us eat traditional food that we have always known how to
cook and stick to what we know we can do and what we know our
families will eat. We worry that many of these foods may be
unhealthy but don’t want to, or know how to, change the sort of
meals that we usually eat.
Some of us feel that we are part of a culture that has eaten
unhealthily for a long time and that to change this needs social
Some of us have illnesses which mean that we over or under eat.
We had the feeling that eating healthily is more expensive and that
unless we live near Inverness it can be hard to get good local
food. Equally we had other members who disagreed with this saying
that the use of veggie boxes was now widespread and that farmers’
markets were increasing too.
A few of us felt that we looked at our lives so negatively that we
ate badly as a form of ‘self sabotage’:
- “If you are
suicidal then you have no regard to your physical and mental
- “If you are low
you have no appetite.”
We did, however, say that many drop-in centres provide cheap and
healthy meals which are appreciated and that some of us had help
learning to cook (at college) which was good.
Eating well may take more time than we are prepared to give it, and
some of us find it very difficult to get out to the shops in order
to get the ingredients we need to eat well.
We did make the point that this problem is not confined to people
with a mental illness; with one in five of the population being
overweight it is an issue that affects the whole of society. Some
of us felt that there was a class issue in this area:
- “There is a class
mismatch between the advisors and the users; for the whole
What stops us getting out and
There are a number of things that make this hard to do. We may not
have access to transport and may not be able to afford a car or be
permitted to drive one.
We may have little reason to get out because we don’t have friends
or family to call on.
Again, our illness itself can stop us getting out and for some of
us there is a feeling that medication saps away our energy to do
We may have no incentive:
- “I suffer from
immense boredom, everything is boring. When you are healthy you get
out and about but if you’re bored of life there is no incentive to
We can also find it hard to mix with other people, especially
‘normal’ people, and we may find it very hard to get into a routine
that encourages us to get out and do things even though we know
that if we could just get out we would feel better about
- “I can’t go out
because I’m isolated and don’t trust
- “I’m frightened
to go out and meet
- “… when we are
not doing well we know we are not good company.”
Getting out may make us anxious and we may lack the confidence to
make these steps.
Doing things outside often costs money which is sometimes in short
supply for us.
The Highlands in the winter with their dark nights discourage many
people from getting out of the house.
Some of us live in neighbourhoods which are frightening and
unpleasant. This stops us getting out and, equally, in many
communities there are few places to go to except the local pub.
Some of us spend most of our time alone and value the time we spend
in drop-in centres or with other users as a way of keeping up
contacts with the outside world.
The only way some of us can get out is if we have support and
encouragement to do so. If we don’t have this then we are often
We may believe that the general public don’t understand people with
a mental illness so we avoid them. We may also have mental health
problems such as agoraphobia which make any form of social contact
difficult to achieve. We may feel intimidated by seeing confident,
capable people in the community who we don’t feel we can compare
For some of us there is nothing that we want to do so we don’t do
it. A few of us find pleasure in walking and because we are walking
alone we don’t feel that there is any pressure on us to talk to
What stops us seeking help when we
Most of us know that if we get help early, whether it be for our
physical or mental health, then the outcomes are generally
However, many of us don’t do this; the reasons we may put off
seeking help are varied and include the following:
By seeking help we worry that we are then seen as weak and as
failures. By seeking help we can feel that we are a burden to other
people and may feel guilty about asking for assistance. On the
other side we can encounter the attitude of “pull your socks up”
and therefore try to sort our problems ourselves. We sometimes
worry that admitting we have a problem may be upsetting to those we
are close to. Sometimes we are just too embarrassed to seek
Some of us have an aversion to doctors and therefore avoid seeing
them if at all possible.
We did think that it was usually easier to seek out help for a
physical illness rather than a mental illness. We may not believe
that help will be effective and we might not have the confidence to
make an appointment. Once we summon the energy to see someone, such
as a psychologist, or even a GP, the long wait to see them can be
off-putting. We also thought that men tend to be worse at seeking
help than women.
We may not believe that we are ill and therefore don’t seek help or
we may not like or get on with our doctor and therefore avoid
Sometimes we worry that if we say we are ill that people look down
- “You’re fed up
with being seen as a shyster.”
We can also worry that we will not be believed by professionals and
that our concerns will be dismissed. We can be slightly paranoid
and may have difficulty in communicating and worry that we may be
misunderstood. We may also fear that revealing illness will mean we
go back into hospital.
Sometimes the opposite occurs and we feel that we are constantly
asking for help yet rarely getting it.
However, many of us talked positively about the range of workers
who help us and who pick up on the signs that we may getting ill.
Also, through sometimes bitter experience, many of us have come to
realise the importance of getting help at the first signs of
What could improve our health and
As a close to these discussions we tried to see if there was
anything that would improve our health and wellbeing that we hadn’t
already covered. The following points were raised:
It could be good to encourage us to develop hobbies, to have
healthy taster sessions, to get more support to do things and to
publicise events better. If we invested in activities that promoted
health and prevented ill health then in the long-run it may be
cheaper as we would stay well longer.
The support we can offer each other can also be invaluable. Going
on walks together or going swimming together with people we trust,
and who may have similar experiences, can be very helpful.
We need to take responsibility for ourselves but this is often
difficult and may involve finding a fondness for life that our
illness has removed. If we can further reduce the number of people
that smoke this would have a big impact. If the different
professionals worked together more and the links between physical
and mental health were better understood then this might improve
The drop-in/resource centres and TAG (Training and Guidance)
network both improve our wellbeing. Sometimes activities targeted
only at people with a mental health problems could be helpful to
those of us that struggle with mainstream activities. If we felt
more confident about seeking help for physical illnesses then we
would be healthier. This may involve having more sympathetic
doctors and healthier surgeries. Simple things could make a big
- “A pedometer is
the simplest self help tool.”
Having access to a break from our daily lives can make a huge
difference. If we could challenge stigma and improve the mental
health awareness of the whole community then people may be more
inclined to seek help when they are suffering emotionally. Although
we acknowledge that we need to take responsibility, we may need
support and encouragement and a series of tiny steps to do
We need some activities to be adapted to those of us who are very
unfit and who feel intimidated when making the first steps back to
fitness. For many of us the key is helping us regain the confidence
and the enthusiasm to want to do the sort of things we know will
keep us healthy. Some of us are very keen to see outdoor activities
and such things as ecotherapy further developed. We would also like
more help with diet and more encouragement to exercise and a way of
generally keeping clean and tidy.
The relationship between physical and mental health is very
complicated but very much interconnected. Most of our members are
well aware of the need to keep as physically well as they can and
understand that this will also improve their mental health.
However, there are multiple barriers to achieving a state of better
wellbeing. These range from the basic fact that many mental
illnesses directly stop people pursuing a healthy life style and
even that some medications, whilst good for our mental health, are
not good for our physical health.
At an individual level many of us lose the will to pursue a healthy
lifestyle; partly because of the sadness and isolation we
experience but also because we face a number of barriers: the cost
of keeping healthy; our worries about the attitudes of other people
to our health; the information and skills we have to promote our
own health, and the general fear that many of us have about using
mainstream facilities where we worry about fitting in with other
We may be less than zealous about seeking help, sometimes because
we are not aware that there is anything wrong with us but also
because some of us worry that doctors don’t always have a
sympathetic attitude to people with a mental illness. On other
occasions it can be because we believe that we are just a burden to
the society we are a part of.
Ways of changing this situation are referred to throughout this
We need some way of finding the motivation and inspiration to want
to become healthier in the first place and once that is in place we
need to deal with barriers of attitude, finance and the different
ways in which we engage with society to make it as easy as possible
for us to start on our own personal journeys of wellbeing.