A very warm and summery greeting to you from the editor’s desk this staycation time. My family and I are going to enjoy and stay home like so many others this summer; drinking in the beauty of the surrounding naturescapes and exploring them with fresh eyes. We are so thankful that we live in this beautiful part of the world! Breathing in the fresh air, rejoicing with the chirpings of the bird as they peck at my cherries and raspberries turning a dark red. They have not become as sweet as I would have wanted! I will have to investigate and find ways of getting them to fruit earlier and find the necessary warmth to sweeten. Not easy with the threat of climate change. As I have not been able to travel abroad to see my mother and siblings, I am looking forward to gardening and exploring the country – perhaps going further afield from D &C and camping as well with friends.
But I am digressing as I really wanted to speak about how we all should be thinking about acquiring and building resilience. As an academic, I have taught about organisational resilience to my students, but the long and ongoing backdrop of the pandemic makes it so relevant at the practical level for us as individuals. The Mental Health Foundation clarifies resilience as our ability to cope with the normal stress of life as well as being able to bounce back from crises. This coping and bouncing back when confronted with stress, crisis and adversity require us to tap into resources – internal or external which enables us to withstand the adversity. This may require the capacity to turn to different kinds of resources, psychological, social, cultural and physical that sustain wellbeing as well as the capacity to negotiate for these resources in culturally meaningful ways at individual and collective levels (Resilience Research Centre). For the resources to truly support wellbeing and enable us to cope and bounce back, we need individual and collective strategies and interventions.
Structurally, resilience can be supported at different levels: nationally, regionally, locally and individually. Nations that are more equal, have good economic foundations and opportunities for their diverse people will be more adept at whole-society measures and interventions that foster good mental health and wellbeing. At community level, local programmes and initiatives involving everyone or targeting specific people and communities who are more vulnerable can be very effective.
Individuals can benefit through enhanced mental health literacy and opportunities for self-care and positive coping skills. Some of us at the individual level may be innately more resilient whereas others may need more support. According to the Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard University, positive experiences in very early childhood and in particular a secure attachment relationship with at least one primary caregiver is said to be a core factor for developing and building individual resilience. They emphasise that supporting a good primary caregiver-child relationship is an important protective factor for promoting resilience, while circumstances that put this relationship under strain can negatively affect resilience and mental health throughout childhood and adulthood. The Mental Health Foundation has suggested various ways of positively coping with stress and improving mental health during the Corona Virus pandemic including Exercising, Spending time in nature, Maintaining contact with friends and family, eating healthily, Being aware of smoking and drinking, Taking time to relax, Being mindful, Getting restful sleep, Avoiding negative thinking and Doing an enjoyable hobby. I heard from friends and family how simple things like walking the dog, gardening or staying in a routine gave them purpose and helped them cope with the stressors around them. Exercise is known to boost mood. Last summer when we began to feel the negative impact of all that was happening around us, we decided to join the Hill Lane Tennis club close to our home and began to play tennis. It was fun to discover that the Great Fred Perry had actually played a Davis Cup match on the same tennis court as vouched by a black and white photograph on the club website.
We are all different and what works one for one person may not benefit another. Many of my friends boosted their own well-being by going for walks, which became something they began to look forward to and did together as a family. A dear friend began to take photographs on his nature walks and posted them on his Facebook page. This became a go-to resource for others.
The benefits of eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits are espoused not only by Ayurveda and but also by modern research. A healthy diet is said to contribute to mental health and wellbeing. Research has reported higher levels of well-being reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables1 and a reduction in depression (which was sustained six months after the intervention) has been associated with a Mediterranean- style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.) supplemented with fish oil2.
Another important but often neglected coping strategy is sleep, which is vital not only for mental health but plays a central role in our learning, emotional regulation, behaviour including how we interact with others3. A 2019 article by Harvard Health Publishing explains how sleep impacts mental health. We all alternate between two major categories of sleep – quiet and REM sleep. During “quiet” sleep body temperature drops, muscles relax, and heart rate and breathing slow. In the deepest stage of quiet sleep, physiological changes are produced that help boost immune system functioning.
The other sleep category, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, is the period when people dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase to levels measured when people are awake. Studies report that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health — in complex ways. The paper stresses that “although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa” 4
So though we are aware of the need to have good strategies for managing stress, anxiety and depression, or becoming more resilient, we have a collective responsibility to strengthen the support that is available for the most vulnerable amongst us. There is some great work happening in Devon and Cornwall but there are areas with little or no access to mental health support. They (https://www.devonmind.com/about/our-story ) have been working for better mental health in Devon for over 35 years with their campaigning and support services. Devon Mind highlights the importance of the work they are doing through these stark statistics on their webpages: Research by the NHS has found that 20.9% of people in the South West of England experienced a common mental health problem (such as depression or an anxiety disorder) in any given week — that’s the highest rate of mental health problems in the country, reflecting the great need for Devon Mind to support the entire community.
Hence, we have decided to plan our fundraising activities in support of Devon Mind throughout this year. Further information about events and opportunities to contribute will be shared separately.
Dr Smita Tripathi
1 Stranges, S, Samaraweera, PC, Taggart, F, Kandala, NB, & Stewart-Brown, S (2014). ‘Major Health-related Behaviours and Mental Well-being in the General Population: The Health Survey for England’, BMJ Open, 4(9), e005878.
2) Parletta, N, Zarnowiecki, D, Cho, J, Wilson, A, Bogomolova, S, Villani, A, Itsiopoulos, C, Niyonsenga, T, Blunden, S, Meyer, B, Segal, L, Baune, B and O’Dea, K (2017) ‘A Mediterranean-style dietary intervention supplemented with fish oil improves diet quality and mental health in people with depression: A randomized controlled trial (HELFIMED)’ Nutritional Neuroscience 22(7) pp.474-487.
3 Walker, M (2017) Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner. ISBN-13 : 978-1501144318