With so many 'awareness' events cluttering the calendar, it's very easy to feel fatigued by the whole 'awareness' thing. I would be the first to admit that Squirrel Appreciation Day doesn't do it for me. Nor can I see the relevance of International Kissing Day. I'm sure that kissing is beneficial in all sorts of ways, but with a face for radio, I never get to find out. The last thing I need is a day devoted to reminding me of the fact.
Joking aside (I'm actually very handsome), 'awareness' campaigns have an important function in society. Perhaps their key value lies in their ability to provoke discussion. They make it 'ok' to talk and ask questions about taboo topics. Some give much needed coverage to lesser known or misunderstood illnesses and conditions. In the process, those involved in the conversation (either actively contributing or just listening), can develop a better understanding or appreciation of the issue(s) at hand. This of course sounds great, albeit rather intangible; just how do you measure awareness and the benefits that might come from raising it?
This week sees the 18th Mental Health Awareness Week hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Those of you that crave concrete evidence of all the positive things that can be achieved from awareness events, need look no further. A decade ago, mental illness was something that people lived with - alone. Likewise, outside of medical circles, the importance of mental health was poorly appreciated. Today, the story is very different. It's now 'out there': mental health is a public discussion. Indeed, it's one that Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have thrown their weight behind. High-profile celebrities like Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax have done much to erode the stigma attached to mental illness and highlight the many causes and manifestations it can take. Similar has occurred in the sporting world. In the space of a week, Premiership footballer Andy Johnson's tweet about his colleague Aaron Lennon has been shared over 147,000 times, with the added benefit of each retweet raising 10p for the charity MIND. Last month 'Heads Together' was charity of the year for the London Marathon.
But, we must guard against complacency. This is evident to all of us at the Colostomy Association. And so I want to conclude this blog by making a contribution to Mental Health Awareness Week on behalf of the people we support. Stoma surgery is more common than you might think. The NHS carries out around 6400 permanent colostomies each year. In many cases the surgery is lifesaving, but it can also be life changing. Post-op, patients have a lot to cope with. For some, maintaining their mental health can be a real challenge, as they come to terms with changes in their bodily functions and face concerns that can develop about body image and intimate relationships.
In the past ten years or so, the link between exercise and mental well-being has become firmly established. In 2011 the Department of Health's report 'Start Active, Stay Active' made clear that adults who engaged in daily physical activity were at a reduced risk of depression, distress and anxiety, than those who led sedentary lifestyles. Earlier this year, an article in the British Journal of Nursing by Sarah Russell (Ostomy Health and Well-being Specialist) showed that people who have undergone stoma surgery are no different. It is for this reason that, through our Active Ostomates program, we are promoting exercise as a way for people with stomas to maintain both their physical and mental health. In 2016, thanks to funding from Sport England and the Berkshire Community Foundation, we were able to pilot 'chair yoga' sessions at the East Berks Ostomy club. This year we have started a broader roll-out, running taster sessions at support groups across the UK, along with trialing archery for ostomates. Those who prefer to keep fit at home can access a range of medically approved exercises in our booklet 'Active Ostomates: Sport and Fitness After Stoma Surgery'.
I'll sign off with a date for your diary. Please don't forget 7 October...it's Colostomy Day 2017