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Breathing for Mental Health – The Here and Now

By 8 March 2023No Comments

From my personal experience of living with mental illness, psychosis and distress in my immediate family and growing up with the consequences of it, I believe and know that it is the cause of much personal anguish, family trauma, family conflict, self-harm and much more. In addition, mental ill health also induces fear, apprehension and anxiety in the other people and governs how they respond to the person living with mental distress.

Although attitudes about mental distress and diagnosis have changed, the topic of mental health wellbeing and the conversations around it are still heavily contested and loaded with value assumptions of individuals and communities. Tragic is also the ‘crime’ of people from black and minority communities, still to this day, have poor experiences and outcomes from their interactions with mental health services.

For me coming from a Pakistani community I feel that the thinking, attitudes and approaches to mental health and wellbeing are so confused and, in many ways, oppressive. The answer/s seems to be glaringly obvious in many instances and the tools exist within the cultural framework to address these however very few people take these up.

So, for example, a celebratory act of marriage can become an experience of trauma rather than joy. Forced marriage plagues the lives of the couple and then immediate family and then if children come along, as if by chance, a whole new generation.

From my experience, I have come to learn that all people have a roller coaster of up and down experiences that cause distress to one degree or another. Some of these moments are short lived and vanish as quickly as they arrived. Whilst others, like forced marriage, due to their complexity and their rootedness in family, personal habits, social contexts and beliefs are more complex and require us to process them and to deal with them in subtle and more complex ways. The latter array of experiences may trigger hidden and dormant traumas that resurface like a caged lion hungry spiralling out of control.

It is these moments, at the intersection between an ability to manage and a slippery slope the possibility of getting out always remains but it just keeps on stretching and seems further away than the moment just gone. Moreover, when the outside world, often loved ones, do not understand and the responses are often times crude and may appear unhelpful we as individuals must try our best to take control of the moment and breathe.

In that moment, I would say that we have to recognise and value our own humanity and rights. We are all important, our individual lives are important, our aspirations and happiness are all important. We cannot be someone or something for someone else until we know and own our own individual happiness. I say this coming from a south Asian background in which tribal and family wellbeing and prosperity always is seen as more important than individual rights and freedoms.

Yes, you and I matter. We matter because without us the family cannot function, without us the marriage or relationship cannot function.  Therefore, in that moment of deep distress of anxiety we need to take a moment to Breathe. We need to slow down and get in the moment. Hold the bridal of your mind and pull the reigns of your heart in. Sit down, Breathe, and focus on your breath. Breath is the fundamental aspect of ourselves that we cannot do without and it is invaluable when there is potential of anxiety rocketing out of control, or spiralling into oblivion. Yes, that moment you know what or when it is. That moment when it arrives, we need to take a moment to breathe and take a step back. Collect your thoughts do not rush. Sit for five, ten, fifteen minutes or as long as you like.

Obviously if you are being attacked, then run or defend yourself but when you get a moment to revisit or have to revisit then it is this moment, here, that you have to control your breath and your thoughts for a positive mental health outcome.

I want to say to you in breathing, you will have control and a moment to let go and focus on you and your needs. Focus on your breath and try to achieve some clarity of thought before you respond.

These moments of distress and anxiety are the moments that we need to channel and manage and in the long run deal with before they arise. For me this is where real preventative and restorative work takes place. We have to come back to our own centre.

There is lots of support in the district to help you on this journey of wellbeing. You can go to one to one mental health support at Inspired Neighbourhoods as well as your GP, go to the wellbeing college and do some training at Cellar Project or if things are more urgent you can get crisis support at Mind.

On a final note please do remember that we at Inspired Neighbourhoods and colleagues around the district, in different organisations, are here to support you.

Mohammad Shabbir

Mental Health Lead Inspired Neighbourhoods

If you need support with your mental health and wellbeing support is available.  Contact the University Counselling and Wellbeing service Tel: +44 (0)1274 235750.

The Counselling and Mental Health Service are located in Student Central, level 01

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Students at the University of Bradford can now access a range of mental health and other support online. The uobwell app is free to students and hosts an array of support and is aimed at increasing mental health support amongst students.

More information about the app and wellbeing events taking place at University can be found at @UoBWell and

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