Mental Health Awareness Week: physical activity and wellbeing


Physical activity is often described as something we ‘ought to do’ to avoid developing health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. What’s less often explained is the huge potential it has to enhance our happiness and quality of life and reduce mental illness. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week aims to shift our motivation for physical activity to something we choose to do to increase our wellbeing. – Mental Health Foundation

Well that’s all well and good for the able-bodied, but I can’t help but think that the Mental Health Foundation, though it has its heart in the right place, is neglecting a huge swathe of people with mental illnesses who also suffer from physical disabilities. Does the Mental Health Foundation really believe that all people are either one or the other, and never the twain shall meet?

I would love to be able to “choose” to do physical activity if it meant some relief from, for example, my bipolar symptoms. I am willing to believe that, were I able-bodied, physical activity might be a wonderful thing for improving my mental health. I’ll never find out; my disability precludes me from being able to walk to the next road without excruciating pain, stiffness and fatigue, let alone taking a Yogalates class or going for a nice jog.

Not only that, but it’s kind of insulting to mentally ill people to imply that they can control whether they’re mentally ill or not. The implication of the “physical activity improves mental health” stuff is that if people are not partaking in physical activity (through choice or because they physically can’t) then it’s their own fault that they are suffering from mental ill-health, because they should just be trying harder.

A friend on Facebook also pointed out that, for many mentally ill people, the motivation to get out there and exercise is simply not there. So for someone in the deepest pit of severe depression, for example, it’s disingenuous to suggest they could just do a nice bit of exercise and feel better, because they’re just not mentally able to.

I normally like a lot of what the Mental Health Foundation does, but they’ve lost me here, I’m afraid. I feel ignored and alienated, and like the issues of the physically disabled are once again being treated as invisible and unimportant.

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