Mental health has been a hot topic in recent weeks, with a celebrity-backed campaign to increase funding for mental health services in England being the latest step towards improving the treatment provided to patients and sufferers. Across the Atlantic, Harvard University researchers have found a link that yoga and meditation can help reduce stress, leading to savings in spending on mental health services.

‘A lack of access’ to mental health treatment

The latest campaign for mental health funding in the UK has called for equality between physical and mental health treatment, in time for the Government’s next spending review. The open letter was started by Norman Lamb, former mental health minister, Andrew Mitchell MP and Alastair Campbell, and has already been backed by high profile names such as Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Richard Curtis and Bob Geldof. The letter outlines 10 major concerns which discuss key issues such as the provision of insufficient mental health care, difficulties in accessing treatment, long waiting times and the startling statistic that those with mental health problems face a 20-year reduction in life expectancy compared to the rest of the population.

Waiting times and the lack of treatment for children in particular (three out of four children are currently receiving no treatment for mental health problems) are major concerns being addressed by the campaign. With increasing pressure to find a suitable solution, we thought we’d take at look at how yoga and meditation can help improve the lives of those living with mental health conditions.

Yoga – an at home solution for mental health savings?

The research published last week by Harvard University suggests that in the US, mental health problems related to stress account for ‘80% of visits to the doctor’ and the third biggest expenditure in health care after cancer and heart disease. Yoga is a proven technique in boosting heart health and helping with conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety. The research has been ground-breaking in working out the value of people using these disciplines to help their mental health, yielding some interesting results. The research showed that people who undertook a ‘relaxation programme’ used medical services 43% less than they did in the previous year.

The benefits of yoga

The health benefits of yoga have long been championed by those in the health and fitness industry. Some of the known benefits of yoga include:

  • -Being a safe, non-strenuous way to exercise
  • -Improves flexibility, strength and balance
  • -Meditative properties help reduce stress and therefore blood pressure and heart disease, as well as helping with depression.
  • -Can help with typical aches and pains such as back pain

Meditation – a top tool to help your head space

An interesting article from Forbes looked at meditation in more detail, finding that it has a number of neurological benefits, including the reduction in activity within the brain’s ‘me’ centre. This part of the brain is associated with feelings of unhappiness and worry, therefore this activity reduction lessens these feelings. Studies on meditation have also revealed that it can help people reduce signs of depression or anxiety and even pain, providing the same benefits as antidepressant medication. It’s possible that some meditation training could provide a number of benefits to those suffering mental health conditions, and even prevent them from taking hold in the first place.

As yoga can be done at any age, and any fitness level, there’s never a bad time to start. The NHS website has plenty of FAQs about yoga to help get you started. There are plenty of great yoga classes you can take part in and around the Richmond, or even via YouTube at home if that’s a more suitable option for you.