Is it Time to Pay More Attention to our Digital Health?

We are constantly digitally connected. We check our phones when we wake up, and we browse social media that little too long before we fall asleep. The average age a child has their first mobile phone is 10, and youngsters now use their families’ devices long before that. 50% of young people are heavy social media users, but digital gluttony is far beyond that. We now use it for shopping, banking, relationships, work, and hobbies. Without it, we would simply be lost.

The digital era has brought us benefits aplenty. It’s produced services, products, games, networking, life hacks, and has arguably both improved and streamlined our lives. Social media has been at the forefront of this over the past decade. It brings us connectivity, not just to family and friends but idols and people all over the world. It allows people to express themselves, explore their identity and interests, and interact with those who share the same interests as us. It brings empathy, builds communities, can provide emotional support, and even allows us to participate in movements. Unfortunately, the pitfalls are catching up.

Despite its benefits, we know social media can be harmful to young people and their health. Several studies have found a link between social media use and worsened mental health, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and increased suicide risk. Half of girls and two-fifths of boys have been the victims of online bullying, and 41% of Gen Z users say social media makes them sad, anxious, or depressed, with Instagram and Snapchat judged to be the most destructive. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have an overall positive effect.

One reason is that we all fall into the trap of comparisons, wondering why our lives aren’t as great as the people we follow. It’s easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel, a place we post our best pictures, our funniest jokes, our favourite memories. You may see someone’s holiday to Corfu and the party they attended last Friday, but you won’t see that bout of food poisoning or a pimple they just couldn’t cover yesterday. People present their perfect life, whilst hiding their real struggles. Envy has become heightened in the digital age.

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A National Health Crisis

Despite all the divides across the UK, if you really want to get 99% of the British Public rallied together, dare to criticise the NHS. The NHS tops the Pride of Britain list by a sizeable margin and is unequivocally part of our national identity. So, when someone like, say, Donald Trump weighs in on the issue, the UK is quick to rally around it’s in defence. Groups like ‘NHSMillon’ and ‘People’s NHS’ everyday show support for the institution, and its popularity is great.

In 2017, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable system of the 11 countries it assessed. Many elements of the NHS are lauded: the quality of care and range of treatments, the staff, and of course it being free at the point of use. When Trump used protests to brief against a single-payer health system in the US, he forgot some facts. Only 10% of British voters want parts of the NHS to be privatised, and despite spending almost half of GDP compared to the US on healthcare, we achieve far better outcomes.

However, things are changing.

Public dissatisfaction with the service is now at a 10-year high. Of course, satisfaction is still high, 57% in fact, but that has fallen 6 points from 63% last year.  On the other hand, dissatisfaction has doubled since 2014. Since 2010, no country in Europe has had a worse record in health than the UK. NHS pressures are no longer confined to the winter, it’s an all-year-round crisis.

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Mental Health in a Busy Life

Juggling work, projects, education, a social life, and finding time for yourself is incredibly tough. When you add into the mix poor mental health, the problems are only heightened, and it’s easy for everything to get on top of you. You find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, your mental health flares, but you don’t have the time to look after yourself. I work full time, have my own place to keep on top of, personal projects I work on, and this really doesn’t leave too much time for much else.

As I’ve written about before here, I am someone who needs to keep myself busy – whether it’s at work or at home. All in all, this is usually a big positive for me and my mental health. The problem is that when I am stuck in a rut and my mental health is a mess, it can be extremely difficult for me to escape terrible thoughts. This then brings other issues including a lack of productivity, and a lack of want to focus on other areas including my social life.

I do struggle with socialising and putting myself out there, and a busy life only adds to that problem. We all have those days where we wake up and say “Right! Today’s the day, a new me”. You imagine yourself becoming this ultra-version of yourself. You’re going to excel at work, take on new projects, pamper yourself, make new friends, and have this incredible social life. Now, usually, by the next day, this has disbanded, and your mental health takes the hit.

Is it even possible to become that person? The one you imagine? No of course not, nothing could compare to that. But here are a few tips to find a better mix and manage your busy life alongside your mental health at the same time.

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A Year in Review

What a year it’s been – both for me, and this blog. When asked to describe 2017, people will think Brexit and the election, and despite watching the news in horror for most of the year, this has at least been good for my blog. I definitely haven’t had a shortage of items to write about. At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of posting a piece a week, and I’ve kept to that without it (in my opinion) being detrimental to the quality.

So, what’s happened this year in my personal life? Not much to be honest. After the host of changes in 2016 which included graduating, new job, moving into my own flat, 2017 has been quiet. I’ve had a good year at work where I’ve had a raise, took on some side projects, and feel I’m getting closer to a promotion. Outside of work I’ve been involved in a lot of my own projects which I’m excited for, but currently I, unfortunately, do not have the time to knuckle down on them as much as I’d like.

2017 is also a year where my mental health has been relatively kind to me. Bar some low points in the autumn I’ve been fairly in control throughout the year, and I hope that can continue into the new year. One disappointment personally is that I am still very single. I obviously do not want to rush into a relationship for the sake of it, but I have been single for a long time now and am extremely sick of it. So, what are some of my highlights of the year…

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The Loneliness Epidemic – and My Experiences

For a long time, loneliness has been the hidden demon plaguing so many people and only recently has it finally started to become a hot topic. We are living in a more disconnected society than ever, and loneliness has escalated into an epidemic. More and more people are living alone, and people are spending more time alone as well. In fact, we are the ‘loneliest’ country in Europe. The knock-on effects of this are plentiful, and a big issue to be solved because of the close relationship between loneliness and mental health.

Loneliness has been proved to be linked to increased stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, suicides, and even onto physical health issues such as dementia, high-blood pressure, and self-harm. Loneliness among those in work costs employers around £2.5bn a year and is shown to be twice as bad for older people’s health as obesity and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. This increased the burden on an already strained NHS, so it’s vital that the issues are addressed now.

Generally, when the topic of loneliness is raised it is regarding elderly who live on their own, typically after losing their partner. But often those that are forgotten are young people, who tend to feel lonely more often than those over 55. “Loneliness is a recognised problem among the elderly – there are day centres and charities to help them,” says Sam Challis who works for Mind, but for young people, there aren’t the same services to assist them.

So why is this? Is it simply we’re becoming less social? A poll from YouGov earlier this week would suggest so. Millennials are notably less likely to want to engage with others compared to their elders, with 18-34-year olds more likely to avoid talking to others across all scenarios put forward. Of course, this isn’t the issue, as let’s face it not many people like talking to strangers.

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My Self Care Activities

When you suffer from a mental illness, it’s important that you regularly engage in self-care to give your mental health the same attention as your physical health. It’s easy to forget to look after ourselves from time to time, especially when life gets tough and stressful. This is where self-care comes in. Self-care is simply the act of caring for yourself and doing things that you enjoy and benefit from. Whether it’s exercise, relaxing, indulging, introverting, whatever helps you is good!

The first act of self-care is to arguably get to know yourself and learn to spot the signs of when you are struggling to cope. Once you become aware of these signs, it means you can sense them coming, and even plan to combat them. You might find that different activities help with individual situations, and there is not one kind of self-care that fits all for you. Therefore, it’s useful to build yourself a self-care plan, something you can go to. These can be individual plans for specific events, times, and places; you can know what the issues are, and from that know the steps you can take to help make yourself feel better.

Here are some of my self-care activities that may resonate with you:

Keeping myself busy/projects
I am someone who always needs the next project to work on, the next blog post to write, and without that it’s quite easy for me to feel lost. Projects, essays, and lectures at University, loathed by most, was used as a form of self-care for me. Ploughing myself into work was a distraction, albeit not always a healthy one. Even now I like to keep myself as busy as I can whether it be at work or at home.

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The Issue of Graduate Depression

Depression and other mental health issues among students are well documented, and finally, are being discussed and treated more and more. From freshers week to final exams, money worries to exhaustion and loneliness, University is riddled with huge pitfalls for students. But, the problems don’t suddenly end there. Everyone focuses on mental health at University, but no one really focuses on the mental health of students after they have graduated.

Graduate depression is a very real thing, and for a lot of students is unexpected. Dealing with major life-changing transitions after university is tough, and it’s taxing for graduates to cope with an overwhelming mix of emotions once they’ve reached the end of their studies. Statistics show that one in four students suffers from depression during their studies, but the problem is that no official figures exist for those who have just graduated, because once students leave university, they seem to slip out off the radar. 95% of those asked by Claire Dyckhoff, do believe that post-university depression is very real, and 87% say there needs to be more exposure shone on it, especially by Universities.

Finishing university is supposed to be a wonderful time. You are free of the constraints of education, and suddenly you find yourself out and thrust into the open world full of possibilities. After three or more years of demanding coursework and gruelling exams, it’s very easy to suddenly be met and overcome with a feeling of ‘what now?’ as you don’t have concrete plans and may not even be too sure what it is you want to do with your life.

Some students might have graduate jobs already lined up, but for a huge majority, this is not the case. We all know it’s a tough market out there too, so graduate jobs can take time to locate and secure. It can feel as though you’re seemingly applying for dozens of jobs, all of which are incredibly competitive, and it is very disheartening to receive rejection after rejection. You feel astounded that all employers seem to want their graduate candidates to have unrealistic experience for an entry-level job, and when every friend and family member constantly quizzes you on what you’re doing next, you just don’t know what to say.

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