Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

Mental Health Awareness Week took place from Monday 13 – Sunday 19 May 2024. The theme, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, was “Movement: moving for our mental health.” This year, we wanted you to move your way by finding something that moves your body and mind.

The next Mental Health Awareness Week will be in 2025, so bookmark this page to find out how you can get involved.

Why movement matters

Being physically active is great for our bodies and our minds.

Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and it can help us to prevent physical illnesses. Sadly, people living with mental illness die on average 20 years younger than the general population, often from avoidable physical illness. This group is more likely to develop preventable conditions like diabetes, heart disease, bowel cancer and
breast cancer.

Our own research shows that 56% of people found that exercising regularly helped them to alleviate stress and prevent burnout in their lives.

Visit our information page to find out more.

Movement and your mental health

Move your way

Despite the evidence that keeping physically active can promote good mental health, we know there are barriers preventing us doing so, like accessibility, time, money, body image, lack of open space, or the negative connotations we might commonly associated with ‘exercise’ itself.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we want you to ‘move’ for your mental health.

Movement doesn’t need to look like going to the gym, running a marathon or taking part in a team sport – and it doesn’t need to cost the earth. It can be as simple as stepping off the bus a stop early, moving a 1-2-1 meeting to a walking call, giving your child a push on a park swing after school, or dancing in your kitchen while you cook dinner.

Overcoming barriers to movement

There can be numerous barriers to being physically active and moving such as low energy, lack of confidence, or financial constraints. It’s likely all of us will face one or more of these barriers at some point in our lives - rather than be hard on ourselves, it’s important to recognise their validity and find what works for each of us.

Below is a summary of most of the barriers people encounter and some of the ways they can be overcome.

  • Realistic expectations: if you expect too much you may be setting yourself up to be disappointed. Set achievable goals and be kind to yourself. Some days will be harder than others, so reshape and reschedule activities based on how you feel.
  • Praise and reward: being active can be challenging for many different reasons, so make sure you acknowledge your accomplishments. Notice how your confidence and self-esteem are being boosted by your activities.
  • Alone or with others: you might feel self-conscious, embarrassed or under confident in the company of others – so consider what would make you feel comfortable. Not everyone likes going to the gym or classes and that’s okay. You could always start off at home and as your confidence builds take on a class. Motivating yourself can be hard, so consider joining forces with friends – it could also be great fun.
  • Anxiety: you may have a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder, which makes various situations challenging – understanding what you feel comfortable with is key. You could perhaps start off at home with running up the stairs, building up to taking on a local class which tend to be smaller in size than leisure centres. Would it be helpful for a friend or family member to come with you? Perhaps there are times of the day that would suit you better.
  • Body image: relates to how you think and feel about your body, which in turn can influence participation in movement and activity. Whilst for some it can be a motivating factor, for others it can prevent and limit physical activity. It’s important to engage in positive body talk, for example, rather than say; “I’m going to the gym because I need to lose weight” rephrase this to “I want to nurture my body and mind by going to the gym”. Focus on what you can do and feel proud that you are doing something for yourself. Understand more about body image.

People living with physical health conditions or disabilities may be prevented from carrying out certain movements and it’s important to consider what you can do given any medical or physical constraints. You may have been injured in the past and feel wary or concerned about the possibility again. Some of the steps below may support your return to physical activity.

  • Professional advice: whether this is from your medical professional, physiotherapist or personal trainer, it’s important to take your physical condition into consideration so that you don’t undertake movements that may aggravate or place you at risk. They should be able to advise you of low impact movements that you can do without harm.
  • Prevention: it’s really important to take the time to warm up and cool down when exercising, even more so if you have an injury. You don’t have to launch into high impact, work up to where you want to be by stretching and preparing your muscles and don’t forget to schedule in breaks.
  • Tailor it: depending on your age, physical health, motivation and skills you can modify your activities to suit. For example, if you have muscle strain, you could start off by swimming thereby reducing the chance of impact. You could work out a different area of your body that isn’t connected to your injury. Work your way up gradually.
  • Pace yourself and be kind: sometimes pushing yourself can cause damage which could be a setback that leads to inactivity, so it’s important to pace yourself. Take breaks when needed and don’t be hard on yourself if you reduce or change what you’re doing. Some activity is better than none.
  • Healthy habits: if you lack energy, you could consider reviewing your diet to ensure you are getting sufficient vitamins and minerals. Perhaps your sleeping habits are detrimental – getting enough sleep is important for your body to restore both physically and mentally.

Stretched finances during the cost-of-living crisis are likely to be a barrier for many. Whilst this might mean you can’t subscribe to gym memberships or classes there may be other options to consider that cost less or are free.

  • Free activities: taking a walk, jogging or running locally are free, aside from needing trainers. If you don’t like solitary exercise and feel the need for company or motivation you could arrange to do this with a friend.
  • Community resources: your local community may hold classes at local centres, churches etc that are much lower in cost than a local gym, you could find out about these on local noticeboards or in your library.
  • YouTube: there are hundreds of free videos you can follow on YouTube covering all ages and abilities, from full body workouts, to yoga, wall pilates to muscle strengthening.
  • Apps: there are free apps you can download with ideas, videos and and tracking to keep you motivated.
  • Trials and offers: take advantage of local leisure centre offers and trials to see whether it’s worth investing in a membership.
  • Schemes and benefits: your workplace may have a benefits scheme where you can pay for reduced membership or access other reductions relating to leisure. They may also have bike to work schemes, or salary sacrifice options for leisure equipment. Students can often access reduced rates for young people at leisure centres. If you’re eligible, a medical professional could refer you to an exercise scheme, also called social prescribing or activity on prescription.

Our lives can be so full on, with commitments at school, home and/ or work that finding time for physical activity can be challenging. Here are some of the ways you could carve out time in your daily life and work in some physical activity to your everyday.

  • Reshape your daily routines: if you normally drive somewhere – you could cycle instead, if you take the bus to school or work – you could get off a stop earlier. Perhaps you could do something active whilst watching TV such as going up and down stairs or doing wall pilates. If you’re having a meeting, could it be a walk and talk instead.
  • Identify spare time: When you’re planning your week, find a 10-minute slot each day where you can do something physically active. Share it with others who might need your time such as family and friends so they can support you to respect that time. You could get up earlier if spare time is rare.

The range of activities you can carry out often depends on where you live. Factors such as changeable weather, access to suitable outdoor space or leisure facilities can determine what you can and can’t do. Consider some of the following to overcome these.

  • Rain or shine: plan for unpredictable weather, have a range of activities for both indoors and outdoors so that you can switch if necessary, rather than cancel. You could buy some wet weather gear if your activities are mostly outdoors.
  • Location is key: work with what you’ve got and where you live. Whilst this can restrict your activities, look to using your environment – do you have a cycle track near you, a local park or woods, maybe the beach isn’t far? Find the opportunities for movement where you live. There are useful sites that can help you find local places to walk: Find your local park via this government tool, find a local wood via the Woodland Trust site, or visit the Ordnance Survey site for inspiration.
  • Transportation: depending on your location transport may be an issue. Public transport could be limited in rural locations, restricting your options. Perhaps you could car share, or ask a friend to drop you off on their way. Is there somewhere closer to home you could go?
  • Accessible facilities: depending on where you live you may not have access to accessible venues or adaptive equipment. Inaccessible environments especially impact upon people living with a disability or impairment. You could call your local leisure centre to specifically ask questions about accessibility or there are organisations who could signpost you to your nearest facilities, such as AccessAble, ActivityAlliance or Better.

Inspiring stories

Tyler shares his story about overcoming accessibility barriers

Knitting has been a game-changer for Dan's mental health

Downloads to share

Move your way tracker

Ways to move at work poster

Ways to move at school poster

Ways to move at home poster

Move your way poster

Move your way esignature

Social card - landscape

Social card - square

Shakira Akabusi

“Movement can do wonders for our mental wellbeing. It always makes my day better, it helps me manage stress when everyday life can be so busy.

 

Getting outside for a bit of exercise helps to lift my mood, improve my sleep and boost my energy levels. Helping me feel more ready to take on the day.”

 

Feeling moved to support us?

We won’t stop until everyone has the tools to manage their mental health
- and there are a number of ways you could join us.

Move it for Mental Health

Fancy doing something that gets you moving and raises vital funds for Mental Health UK? Move it for Mental Health is our inclusive fundraising event where you can set yourself a movement challenge and target over a time frame you decide – whether its running a marathon or getting on your bike, the possibilities are endless.

Move the conversation at work

From charity of the year partnerships, colleague fundraising and volunteering, through to payroll giving and cause-related marketing – there are plenty of ways we work with organisations to promote good mental health and reach more people. However you choose to work with us, we can do something amazing together.

Become a regular giver

By giving a regular gift to Mental Health UK, we can grow our capacity and support many more people like Sarah – who received 1-2-1 home check ins, support groups as well as weekly drop-ins from our Mum’s Wellness Project. Helping mums with infants under two years and their families manage post-natal depression.

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