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Damian Zabielski – “There’s a common misunderstanding around mental health.”

The latest episode of the Evolve to Succeed podcast features Damian Zabielski, chief product officer at MindMapper UK an award-winning innovation hub for young people’s mental health. The company is pioneering a community-based approach to supporting young adults through an app called MindMapper, and Damian has been driving a new way of empowering young people to co-create services with governments, local councils and businesses by building and leading youth teams within organisations.

Here are some highlights from the podcast.

How would you define good mental health?

There’s a common misunderstanding around mental health. When you Google mental health, the thing that normally comes up is ‘mental illnesses’, so the first thing we need to break down is the difference between mental health and mental illnesses. So if I asked you how you feel right now, if you say something like ‘I feel good today’, that’s your mental health—it’s the way you feel on a day-to-day, situation-to-situation basis.

Every single person in the world has a mental health because it’s just about how we’re feeling, generally. And it ebbs and flows. We all have days when we’re on top of the world and we’re super pumped and excited, and we all have those days when we don’t want the world to see us, and that’s normal.

You’ve then got mental illness, which kicks in slightly differently. There are four spectrums—to start with, you’ve got (1) your good mental health and (2) your bad days; third on the spectrum, though, is feeling a bit sad or anxious and it’s been going on for a couple of weeks, a couple of months or even a year—that might be mental illness. This ‘thing’ has basically immobilised you from doing certain day-to-day things that might be normal for the average person but for you it’s quite difficult. The fourth spectrum is when the issue is affecting you so much that you cannot do anything at all. You’re neither happy or sad and you can’t see a way around your problems and ideas of suicide can come up.

That’s the cycle where you can fall into a rabbit hole and keep going down and down and down.

Portrait of Damian Zabielski
Damian Zabielski

Would you agree that this generation now is so focused on finding its purpose that they don’t enjoy the moment and don’t just go on the journey?

Yes! On top of what I do with My Mind Matters Too, I’ve actively worked with young people of all sorts of ages, from primary school up to university students, and I’m also a youth consultant—my day-to-day job is working with young people. And what I actively find is that young people—because of this access to information—are prone to skip a few of those character-building lessons. They’re focused on the ‘get rich quick’ idea; they want success very, very quickly and it’s more or less not for themselves but to share it with others.

So there’s this mentality of ‘I want to make that money right now; not for myself, but to boast about it.’ We live in an age where we’re constantly boasting about the things that we have, the things that we are and the things that we’ve done, instead of asking, ‘What is it that I actually want? Am I happy in the position that I’m in?’

You’ve spoken about the role of journaling with regards to maintaining your own mental health. What tips can you give for someone looking to get into the habit?

Personally I’m a free-former. But my co-founder has four set questions that she tries to answer each day. For me, I usually try to assess what happened during the day and write about anything that’s in my head. I also follow this up with meditation and there are so many free online platforms you can use—Headspace has one of the best guided meditation sessions but after a trial period you need to start paying for it. Personally I just find a guided meditation on YouTube, a quick ten minutes or even up to an hour.

I’ve been doing this for two years now and it has a significant affect on your mental health—you become a lot more aware, less quick to react to others’ behaviour or attitudes, and it positively influences your productivity because it teaches you to focus on one thing at a time instead of switching between different things.

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