It's OK To Say charity promotes mental health awareness message for annual week
- Credit: It's OK To Say
How nature and the outdoors can improve mental wellbeing was at the heart of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week.
Charity founder Stacey Turner explained: “What this means for our city is a reminder that it is OK to say, to acknowledge that everyone has mental health and to acknowledge any struggles within ourselves and put things in place to support.
"The health of the mind is vital and helps carry an individual through each day.
"This week is a very special week where we usually visit various places, however due to Covid, things are a bit different this year."
As part of the week's events, St Albans Cathedral illuminated in turquoise every evening, the third year it has aligned with the charity, and day chaplains were on hand to talk to visitors about any worries and concerns.
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Celebrities sent the charity videos and tweets promoting the mental health message, including Sky Sports Formula One commentator David Croft, singer Gareth Gates, Mister Maker Phil Gallagher, and ex-EastEnder Rita Simons.
The week started off with a visit to Oaklands College by Stacey and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks landlord Christo Tofalli.
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They spoke to students enrolled on the Level 1 VRQ and Level 2 NVQ in Hospitality and Catering courses about their own life experiences and offered reassurance and mental health tips.
With the hospitality sector reopening in-line with the government’s guidelines on easing lockdown, the industry is finding its feet again.
Christo had some inspiring advice for students: “It’s important to remember that you guys are the future of the industry and will fill a large part of its vacancies. Better days are coming to the hospitality and catering sector and you will be a forefront of this!"
Christo is now leaving politics and front-line campaigning behind him to concentrate on working with and mentoring students.
Stacey added: “After Christo and I gave a speech to a room full of students, we then popped our aprons on and got to join in on a practical session talking to students one-to-one, where topics of anxiety, difficult pasts, confidence, bullying and eating disorders came up.
"As I drove home, I felt very emotional, and grateful to be in a position where truths are told. Hopefully the students and their lecturers benefited from having the space to share.”
The charity also hosted a nature walk and bird watching sessions, and held Zoom meetings promoting its work within the local community, including plans to launch therapeutic services, workshops and support groups for people of all ages.
On the Friday Stacey and the charity's mascot bear were joined by actor and Alban Arena patron Bob Golding for a cuppa and chat morning at the Abbots Kitchen at the Cathedral.
Stacey said: "It was such a lovely couple of hours and we chatted and laughed away to people of all ages, with balloons, badges and treats for the pooches.
"The cake and drinks were provided by Abbots Kitchen and we are hoping to run a monthly pop-up of cuppa and chat mental health mornings.
"Providing this focused space where people know they can come and relax, and talk is very special. We can offer help and point people in the direction of further advice if necessary."
Bob said: “I do feel that there’s never been a more relevant time to discuss our mental health issues with one another.
"I am certain that the last year has highlighted issues that some of us didn’t even know we had so it’s imperative that we are there for each other.
"One of the things I’ve learned about my own mental health is that I had never addressed it seriously before lockdown. It helps tremendously to talk and it’s manageable.”
That evening, Stacey joined the Cathedral's youth group, run by Minor Canon and Youth Chaplain, The Re'vd Kimberley Quak-Winslow and Nina Vinther.
"We reminded the group that it’s OK to speak up about any anxious feelings and concerns, that it’s normal to fluctuate between a range of feelings and emotions, especially given the lockdowns.
"We highlighted what can be gained by speaking up and sharing what we are going through."
Stacey said the theme of nature allowed the opportunity to talk about a therapy called ecotherapy, which explores and allows appreciation of the natural world.
"Many of us do this naturally by getting out and about, however ecotherapy sessions are run by professionals in green spaces with a focus (structured or casual) and may sometimes include talking therapies.
"Ecotherapy may also be called green therapy/care, horticultural therapy, and forest school for the younger ones. An activity is undertaken, so that the focus is on a nurturing element rather than on the person's health.
"It is not about deflecting, it’s about using the opportunity to immerse into nurturing, taking pride, learning new skills, growing something in a supportive environment. Gently caring for something can encourage you to care for yourself.
"It is a bit like ‘Walk and Talk’ therapy, the act of doing has a huge impact in many ways and for many removes the pressure of face-to-face talking.
“Your body naturally responds to the great outdoors, which is why sensory gardens, allotments, the sun and the desire to be near water are all so fulfilling, like a beautiful top up of ‘feel good’.
“You don’t have to join a group if it’s not your thing, but it can help you make new connections, gain peer support and feel involved. For some, a small step of bringing more plants inside to nurture and gain benefit from is rewarding, it does not need to be anything big.
"Simply trying to add in five minutes of paying attention to nature in your everyday life can be warming and a real boost to your mental wellbeing. It’s about doing what you find relaxing, paying attention, being in the moment and really
feeling the benefits."