Mental Health Awareness Week: the importance of moving

Mental Health Awareness Week: the importance of moving

14 May 2024

13th – 19th May marks Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme of this year’s event is Moving more for our mental health, highlighting how being physically active is great for our bodies and our minds. Martin Elliot, Scottish Lead Volunteer for Regions, talks about how being part of Scouting has benefited his mental wellbeing and helped him when facing mental ill-health.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us and yet talking about mental health is too often still seen as a taboo subject. Mental Health Awareness Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and to break down the stigma associated with talking about it.

Poor mental health has affected me for most of my life but up until 2018 I would never have considered talking openly about it like this. So what changed in 2018? That was when my son Jamie was born. A time that should have been a celebration turned to terror as it quickly became clear that all was not well, and we were told that Jamie had a rare genetic condition that would severely limit his development. My response was to try to focus on what action I could take and not confront the feelings that this life changing event brought up. For a while this seemed to work as we tried to have as normal a life as we could with our little boy, enjoying trips to the zoo and managing to get away for a short holiday. But as time passed and the scale of Jamie’s challenges became clearer, the toll on my mental health grew.

Thankfully, whilst I didn’t recognise the need to talk about what I was going through, others did – and nowhere more so than in Scouting. I am fortunate that in Scouting I have been part of some great teams – our district leadership team meetings moved from focussing on the operation of the district, to being an opportunity to talk about what I was going through without judgement or pity but a desire to better understand and help me. Many friends from Scouting would pop in to visit the three of us and gave me an opportunity to release some of the growing stress I was facing.

At the time I didn’t realise what a difference these opportunities to talk were making but as I look back now, I hate to think what would have happened if they hadn’t been there as an opportunity to share some of the burden I was carrying.

Unfortunately, Jamie’s challenges continued to grow and in the summer, he was admitted to the Sick Kids Hospital, where he died in August. The day after Jamie died, one of the first people I met was my former District Commissioner, who when I told him what had happened, immediately dropped everything to provide a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

The importance of movement

Looking back, I have no doubt that being part of the Scouting Movement has been one of the most positive things for my mental health so it is appropriate that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is all about Movement – in particular the positive effect that physical activity can have on mental health. Research has shown that Scouting has a positive effect on member’s mental health so by providing as many young people as possible the opportunity to experience Scouting, we are also helping their mental wellbeing.  

This is also shown when look at the best ways to improve wellbeing. The New Economic Foundation suggests the following five ways to better wellbeing.

Connect with others

Be Active

Take Notice

Learn

Give

When I look at these they tie-in perfectly with our Scouting Values and are actions that flow naturally from the opportunities that we provide.

I owe a debt of thanks to the many friends in Scouting who have listened to me, got me out of the house or gone walking with me. It has shown me how important having people I feel able to talk to is and so I would encourage you to take an interest in those around you. If you are struggling with your mental health – talking about what you are going through with someone else isn’t a sign of weakness but can help to improve your mental wellbeing and help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same. It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots.

And if you think that someone you know is struggling with their mental health, remember that opening up to mental health is not always easy, but doing small things can make a big difference.

It is also important that opening up about mental health is something that we promote to the young people in our groups. The Scouts provide many activities like this to help us talk about mental health with those in our sections.

For those struggling with your mental health, I hope this gives you some comfort that you are not alone. If you have yet to talk about your own suffering or seek help, please think about doing so – despite my fears, my own experience of opening up has been positive.

Our Movement has a great opportunity to be a crucial support to our members, young people and volunteers, when we are facing challenging times. As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”