• Gavin Bates
  • 15 May 2013

Sing it loud, sing it proud

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is physical activity and exercise.

This is something we are often told we should do, to keep fit and keep our bodies in good working order but activity, of almost any kind, can also enhance happiness and our quality of life and thus reduce mental illness.

I don’t think this has to be exercise specifically, just something that you can enjoy doing and you get an emotional release from taking part in – whether that’s playing hockey, going for a run, painting, baking, etc.

For me the key is doing.

We all have physical wellbeing and we all have mental wellbeing - we need to look after both and they are very closely linked.

When I lived with depression and anxiety, I can see now that I was living mostly in my head, so much so that I couldn’t hear myself think because of the cacophonous noise of the competing voices. The day the noise stopped was when I started living in the world – when I stepped out of my mind and started living and doing. For me, talking was the key to this but over the years being a musician has also helped to keep the black dog from my door.

Singing for me was always what I did instead of talking and, although I now do both, it gives me that link to the world outside my head and most certainly has increased my happiness and quality of life. It can also be more tiring than most people realise so I shall certainly regard it as a physical activity.

Another thing I did, was set up a community group - Soundwaves - to raise awareness of mental health using music, encouraging engagement and action. Our very first event is a rockaoke evening in Cambridge in which the audience can sing along with a live band; so rather than passively watch then can be directly involved.

Everyone should be encouraged to do something, anything, no matter what, as long as it is active and not passive. Getting out of your head and connecting with the world will give you space there to think and will also give you the chance to do something that can give you purpose and make you smile.

So much of education and the way we talk to people is about telling and instructing, what people should do or ought to do, without any consideration for what that individual wants for themselves. Physical activity, exercise, whatever it is, needs to be a choice for an individual and something that motivates them.

Nine out of ten people who experience mental health conditions say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. Earlier this year I was in a room full of senior business people discussing mental health, which was regarded on the whole as something fabricated by employees to take time off and with no awareness and understanding of the actual reality.

There is a long battle ahead to change perceptions so that mental health isn’t seen as a weakness or a disease or something made up but is something that can happen to anyone. One in four of us will be affected by a mental health problem in any given year – take a look around you, the chances are either you, a colleague, a friend or a member of your family is dealing with something right now.

When I started talking about my mental health experiences I was amazed at the people I knew who started to open up. And this is how it begins, because without that knowledge being out in the world how can we support one another?

Being active in the world – doing things and talking about mental health – can help break down barriers so that we can look after one another and improve the wellbeing of us all.

There is a further debate in the House of Commons on Thursday 16 May 2013 on mental health and another act people could take is to contact their local MP and make sure they are speaking to show their support of the changes that need to be made.

Whatever you choose to do; just do it.