As we seek to rebuild and revive our vibrant City of London community spirit, this autumn The Royal Exchange has partnered with the charity Mind in the City to explore mental health in the City and the important role relationships, conversation, connection and community play in wellbeing. Here, we talk to Mind in the City’s CEO Vanessa Morris about how she maintains a balanced state of mind.
What activities, habits or rituals have you found to be the most conducive to maintaining good mental health through challenging times?
Music, swimming, being in wild places, and, most of all, getting enough sleep.
How important is a sense of community to you and what/where is your community?
It’s super important – I grew up on an estate and my best friend’s house backed on to mine. I love having friendly faces close by. Community to me is home – I live in Walthamstow and people have shared stories and woven lives. We even have our own pop-up pub locally. I also get a strong sense of community through working with other people who realise the importance of good mental health, and that we rely on each other for our wellbeing. One of the things I noticed most about lockdown is that I missed all of the people who I’m not particularly close to but see regularly – the person I buy coffee from each morning, the people who get the same train as me, people I chat to when they’re walking their dog – and the little snippets of relationships that are homely and not normally in our attention.
Do you agree that a problem shared is a problem halved? And, if so, can you share an example of when this approach has helped you to overcome something that was troubling you?
It makes the load feel lighter. I have lived with bipolar depression most of my life, and the thing that helps me most is taking part in peer support: sharing tips, understanding, being able to make light of some of the horrible things I have experienced with people who’ve been there too. We carry each other.
When you feel low, what activity helps you to feel better mentally?
Meditation and going out to the forest – we are so lucky in East London to have Epping Forest so close by.
Are there any particular things you’ve identified that can trigger a low mood, or anxiety, for you? And have you discovered any ways to combat them, that help you to feel more positive again?
Being overenthusiastic and taking on too much. I have to balance and ask myself what’s most important: stretching myself or keeping equilibrium. It’s always a different answer.
During lockdown, did you discover any new great resources that helped you to maintain your mental health and wellbeing?
Neighbours. Knowing that there are other people close by who want to look out for me and for each other is really consoling. Living in a big city can often stretch us in terms of both our time and with the distances between loved ones. We normally don’t ask for help from people we know only slightly. More of us know we can do this now.
What is your daily mantra for maintaining a healthy mind?
‘This will also change,’ said by the Buddha. It reminds me that – good times or bad times – everything is temporary.
Vanessa Morris is the CEO of the charity Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest, where she enjoys working with ‘anyone who wants to help our communities to be mentally healthy’. She lives in Walthamstow, North East London, and makes the most of enjoying the nature of nearby Epping Forest in her free time
The Royal Exchange’s local Mind network – Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest – offers a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery. Click here for further information about how to access this local service, make a donation or find out how you could help with campaigning, volunteering and fundraising
Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time
Visit The Royal Exchange this autumn to celebrate the vitality of community and rediscover the joy of sensory experiences within our welcoming boutiques and eateries. Read more about our Reconnect campaign here and let us know how you are reconnecting with the world on Instagram @theroyalexchange and Twitter @rexshopper