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Holyrood Notebook: 'Don't take mental health for granted'


By Ariane Burgess

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We all need to be aware of our mental health, and that of others.
We all need to be aware of our mental health, and that of others.

The connection between depression and the dark skies that occupy many waking hours in the winter is well understood, writes MSP Ariane Burgess. That’s why it’s essential to put in place activities that help us stay positive as much as possible without simply sticking a happy face emoji over our feelings.

At this time of year, it is vital to get out when there is daylight and, hopefully, some sunshine. When I can, I go out in nature and am fortunate to have a community woodland close to my home. When I’m in Edinburgh, while we have Holyrood Park right on our doorstep, there’s rarely time to get there, but from time to time, I head to a little garden close to the Parliament.

During the pandemic, many of us turned to nature. If you did, have you kept that practice going?

I find it hard to do, but I always feel ready for the next busy week ahead after some time in nature.

This month, I explored mental health issues, including a couple of conversations on my podcast, Regenerative Scotland. I’m particularly interested in finding ways to support people who struggle with ecoanxiety. Ecoanxiety is a term used to describe the stress people feel when they take on board the extent of the climate and nature emergencies we are living in.

The other area I wanted to explore is the support available for people who live and work rurally and have limited contact with others.

One conversation was with mental fitness trainer Chris Johnstone, who provides courses and tools for people who experience ecoanxiety. Chris has a gentle approach and offers some easy-to-adopt tools, including expressing gratitude for people, places and things in our lives and doing it as a daily practice. Chris offers free online training at ActiveHope.Training for people who want to strengthen their ability to make a difference in the world.

Ariane Burgess MSP
Ariane Burgess MSP

I also spoke with former MSP Jim Hume, who now works for Change Mental Health, a charity that supports people with mental health challenges and offers training. Jim set up the Rural Mental Health Forum, a network of rurally based organisations across Scotland that together train members of their organisations in mental health skills. He pointed out that we need to all play a role in supporting each other with our mental health by learning the signals that may indicate that someone is going through a difficult time.

We talked about how, while mental health is now more openly talked about, there is still a stigma. Living in a rural community can make talking about their feelings difficult for some people.

And when they’ve worked up the courage to open up to a loved one or friend, a receptive response is critical. Otherwise, they may stay silent, leading to more significant problems. You can find more about Jim’s work at changemh.org

A highlight I took away from exploring mental health is that we can’t take our mental health for granted. We need to see it the same way we’ve started to understand our physical health – that in both cases, we need actively keep them in good shape, physical fitness and mental fitness. And that they influence each other; if we are actively and physically fit, we tend to be mentally fit and the other way around. If we are in a good state of mind, we’re more likely to want to be physically active.

And most importantly, we can all get the skills to look out for one another and the signals that might tell you a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time and offer support.

– Ariane Burgess is a Scottish Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands


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