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Liz Main

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Liz is Australian, though grew up in India. A journalism career led to TV presenting and PR, which led to a five year spell of depression. Following this, Liz resumed her career working on government policy on mental health and social exclusion.

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Pyjama Girl and the multicoloured moods

14th January 2007

"How is your mood?" The first time a psychiatrist asked me that question I was somewhat taken aback. Surely, as my consultant, he was aware that I was depressed, so why was he asking me how my mood was? It was rather strange to slap a term on my emotions. Until then, I'd just thought about feelings. I hadn't really thought about moods.
On second thoughts, that's not entirely true. When I was a kid I had one of those mood rings that changed colour to indicate how you were feeling. They work by detecting your body temperature, which changes according to your mood. Grey for anxious, amber for nervous, blue for relaxed, a rather lovely purple for downright happy, and black for tense, nervous, harassed or overworked.

Green meant "normal". None of us wanted to be green. It was boring. It meant you couldn't even get the colour on a mood ring to change.

Green meant you were going to spend your lunch break alone, or at the very least on the periphery of the circle of rainbow moods.

Which brings me to a conundrum - why is it that the term "mental health" has come to mean those colours of the spectrum between green and black on the mood-ring scale? Mental "health" now means mental "ill health". Surely we should be focusing on the "health" part of the phrase?

I'm pleased to see that we are turning the tables and starting to focus attention on good mental health, or "emotional wellbeing" as it is called these days.

Take Northern Ireland, for example, a country that seems to be utterly preoccupied with mental health/mental illness. Perhaps it's not surprising that after 30 years of the Troubles, this is not the mentally healthiest of places. The suicide rate is through the roof, more and more people are being referred to already-heaving psychiatric services, the prevalence of mental illness is higher than in England and Scotland, and a fifth of the population consider themselves to be depressed.

Be this as it may, there's still the same stigma around mental ill health there as everywhere else. It's no worse in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK, but recent research by the Health Promotion Agency has found that the people who are most stigmatising are those in the upper end of the social scale - the people who are allegedly better educated and have fatter pay packets.

The mental health charity Rethink has raised its head above the parapet with a telly and poster ad campaign, backed up with all the usual PR gubbins, to try and tackle this and get people talking about mental health. It might prove a bit controversial because it's got the big, scary "s" word in it (that would be schizophrenia) and most ads steer well clear of that, preferring to talk about the more genteel face of mental health problems. (It's got Simon Gregson from Corrie in it too, you know, that cheeky chappie Steve McDonald, calling on us all to rethink mental illness.)

In addition to the Rethink campaign, this week BBC Northern Ireland is launching "Healthy Minds" - a campaign of their own to improve the mental wellbeing of the province with a season of programming, events and a website jam packed with info and tips on how to keep things on an even keel.

The bit of this campaign I like is the "Moodboosters" section, where local celebrities and non celebrities alike share some of the things that they do on a daily basis to keep their mental wellbeing in check. It makes perfect sense - if we can get our bodies into better shape by eating five fruit and veg a day, we can get our minds that bit fitter by doing something similar.

I'm still contemplating what my moodboosters should be, but I know that knitting is great for the mind - it generates the same sort of brain waves as meditation. I'm hopeless at meditation, so it's a viable alternative. I'm very good at lying in the bath with a face mask on, so there's another. I've been off the booze since the start of January, so for a month at least that's number three. I walk the dog twice a day, and the last walk at night is spent chatting to my husband so that's two birds with one stone. I listen to music. And I eat chocolate. Because yes, I know that it's not that good for your physical health, but research has shown that in moderation, chocolate is jolly good for your emotional wellbeing.

So here's to moodboosters... and here's to chocolate.
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