The pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s mental health, particularly in relation to the loneliness and isolation felt by millions throughout the UK’s multiple lockdowns. Unsurprisingly, according to research conducted by the Mental Health Foundation
, going for walks outside was cited as one of the top coping strategies, whilst 45% of people reported that being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the chosen theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is ‘nature’. Running from the 10th-16th of May, UK Mental Health Awareness Week provides the chance for everyone to get talking about their mental health and the many ways that nature can have a positive impact. According to the Mental Health Foundation, nature has a ‘unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder’…
even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.
To spark our own conversation, we sat down with Jessika Gadoury; the colourful, Canadian-born creator behind Another Blonde Traveler.
As the name suggests, Jessika loves travelling the world in search of new experiences, good food and great people. She is also a mental health advocate, with a zeal for breaking stigmas and igniting honest conversations on her platforms- one post at a time.
Who is Another Blonde Traveler? Tell us a little bit about yourself! I’m Jessika, a 27 years old Canadian now living in London. I love to live colourfully and spread kindness & positivity around me. I am passionate about travel, food, photography and feel good fashion! Over the past 2 years, I have been opening up more and more about mental health on my platforms to help break the stigma around it. I even started a brand to spread positivity and get my mental health message out there.
You’re very transparent about your mental health struggles on your social platforms: Why is it important to you to be vocal about mental health? Because mental health is still heavily stigmatized, and I strongly believe we have to break that stigma. Why is it that we can easily accept that someone has a broken bone, but when someone has a mental illness and they admit it, it creates an awkward situation? Funny thing is, I used to believe I shouldn’t speak about it but then as I would disappear for months from social events and even from my Instagram due to my depressive episodes, I felt like I needed to open up and stop ‘lying’ in a sense. Opening up has been the best thing I have ever done and I hope that by doing so on my platform it will help some feel that they can actually speak about mental health.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is ‘nature’: In what ways do you think nature benefits your own mental health? Nature has always been an essential part of my life. I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal across from a corn field. I remember spending most of my childhood playing outside, going on farms and simply connecting with nature. Growing up and moving to a busy city like London sometimes makes me feel like I have lost this connection. However, I always find that going back to nature is recharging my batteries in a way. So I try to do weekend getaways or even day trips to more rural areas, to enjoy the beauty of nature. For my mental health I would say the best element of nature is air. Breathing is a key element in reducing anxiety for me. I find that going outside, whether it is in a park or in the countryside, to breathe some fresh air deeply resets my brain in a way. To whoever has not tried meditation or breathing exercises, I highly recommend giving it a go. It is heavily beneficial on top of being free.
You’ve travelled to over 30 countries, spanning 4 continents. How does travelling impact your wellbeing? Whenever I feel down the first thing I do is book a trip. The reason is simple: connecting with people from different cultures all around the world gives me so much positive energy. I always say that travelling is a humbling experience. You get to connect with people from so many different backgrounds, living in various conditions with their own unique struggles and somehow there’s a strong bond that is created. I have so many beautiful memories of moments of pure happiness spent with people who we couldn’t even verbally communicate with. These kinds of moments and connections are the parts that help my well-being. After traveling for years and living in 4 very different countries spread across 3 continents, I can say that traveling has made me a better person. It has opened my mind a lot and really helped me to understand what the real priorities in life were.
What is one thing you would like people to know about Bipolar Disorder? Just a little trigger warning before I answer this question as I will be talking about depression and suicide ideations. There’s a lot I wish people knew about it but the first thing would be: there’s more than one type of bipolar. A lot of the time when I speak to people they have this misconstructed vision that someone who is bipolar is someone who will have extreme mood swings in a short period of time. The reality is quite the opposite. Most of the time, bipolar is spread out in episodes that last anywhere from weeks to months. In my case, I am usually high for 2-3 weeks and then down for a few months. For your information I have a type II bipolar. The high is what we call a manic or hypomanic episode. It is the hardest thing to explain but in a nutshell, when I am hypomanic I feel extremely confident, super energetic and on the top of the world. Oh and I spend A LOT of money… like a few thousand in a few days. Which is pretty bad for finances. These phases don’t last long for me but they can be extremely damaging for my future. The lows are depressive episodes that manifest themselves in a similar way to a depression. So extreme sadness, crying for no reasons, feeling suicidal etc. These for me hit the hardest and the longest. It is very hard to get out of bed, I don’t take care of myself usually when I am this way (no shower, no teeth brushing etc) as it is too hard to do it. As you can see these are contrasted episodes. The important thing to remember is the length and intensity of these will vary from episode to episode and person to person. There is not one bipolar that is the same.
For anyone reading this who may be struggling with their own mental health, what advice would you give them? It is ok to ask for help! Really… I used to not want to see a therapist. I ended up not having a choice and have been seeing her for over 5 years now. It has helped me tremendously. Then I didn’t want to get medicated so I would just end up being depressed all the time. Eventually I reached out to a psychiatric team and got medicated as well as a diagnosis. The reason I am saying this is because sometimes it can feel scary to go see someone or seek for help. I remember being scared to be labelled as ‘crazy’. What I didn’t realise at the time is that by not seeking help, I was hurting myself and putting myself in danger. So if you are struggling, don’t hesitate to speak to a professional about it. It is the best self-care you can do.
For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week, or resources and information for coping with mental health struggles, visit mentalhealth.org.uk