Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

There’s nothing quite like leaving things to the last minute. The energy that’s created to ‘get it done’ is pretty addictive (those of you who know this feeling will be smiling now).

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. In 2020 it takes place from 18-24 May. The theme is kindness. So, I am going to be kind to myself with my ‘last minute-ness’ (it’s 20:15 BST on 24 May as I post this).

I remember reading a post by an elite female athlete in 2019 about International Women’s Day which argued that – despite celebrating these days, we look forward to a time when there’s no need for a day, or in this case a week, it’s part of our everyday lives. That’s kind of how I feel about this week.

February 2020 marked twenty years since I was in the final stages to become qualified as a psychologist.

Ever since the choice was made to do my fourth year in psychology rather than exercise physiology, I’ve banged the proverbial drum in an attempt to make psychology matter. Whilst each psychologist will have different therapeutic approaches, styles and personalities – the basic premise that we all share is that we believe that our brain and its amazing attributes and characteristics are worth looking after for the desired goal of a healthy human at a bare minimum, right through to a focused high achiever. Hence, why I’ve referenced the term ‘healthy high achievers’ in my work with humans who want to squeeze the living bejesus out of their chosen pursuits.

My twenty-year journey of making psychology matter has involved working hard to show that a psychologist has a necessary and valued place in any elite sport set up.

Weeks like these are positive in so many ways, none more important than the simple fact that society is becoming more aware and interested in the health of our human brain. What’s even more exciting is that there are massive overlaps in what makes us physically healthy and what makes us mentally healthy.

Breathing. Eating. Exercising. Socialising. Talking. Listening. Goal setting. Writing. Reflecting. Learning. Improving. Resting. Relaxing. Sleeping.  To name a few…

Don’t get me wrong, we need discipline-specific research and expertise. We also need to work together, as last time I looked we don’t have an air gap between our head and the rest of our body. Hence why I’ve tried to stay away from buzz words or too much psychobabble, as it can do my head in so I can only imagine what it does to those outside of our profession.

Go out, experiment with what works for you and commit to it. The parallels between physical health and mental health are appropriate as there are similar challenges – some people will nail it, and others will be in a continual state of experimentation with good intent and others will never settle on the things that work for them.

My first ‘clients’ were in 2000 and my reflections 20 years on are that what makes psychology matter is that people want to be understood. Humans benefit from being understood. Whatever your belief, like/dislike, opinion is of psychology and the psychologists you’ve worked with; it’s highly likely they were trying to help you understand yourself, to understand others and to understand how to live/work/play and ultimately thrive together. More often than not, we (psychologists) succeed. Sometimes we fail. But, like most people, we are always trying to do our best.

Let’s promote mental health like physical health and then maybe we can look towards a day where we all take responsibility for our health – physical and mental; a holistic approach. I often find myself saying that the past doesn’t have to define the future; it will influence it, always, but it doesn’t need to ‘direct play’ in our present lives. Our present and future are our stories to write, and I sure hope that the continuation of value (with gusto!) in our mental health is part of our future stories of being healthy humans.

Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist CPsychol HCPC Registered
Get in contact with Andrea –  Andrea is based in London and provides both face-to-face and virtual sport psychology services to athletes worldwide.