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Blog: Mental Health Awareness Week - Q&A with Nadine Dijkstra

As well as several trained mental health first aiders, the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging is lucky enough to have our very own Wellbeing Champion, Dr Nadine Dijkstra.

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Nadine discusses her feelings towards mental health awareness, how her research in the Metacognition team relates to mental health and illness, and her best tips for looking after your own wellbeing.


Firstly, what does mental health awareness mean to you?

Mental health awareness to me means making people aware of the fact that mental health is an important part of our wellbeing and that ill mental health is something that affects a lot of us and can have big impacts on our professional and personal lives. To break through the stigmas surrounding ill mental health and to provide better support for those of us that need it.


What is metacognition and why is it relevant to mental health?

Metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’; it is our ability to reflect on our own cognitive processes. Being able to accurately reflect on our own cognition is important for good mental health. For example, constantly de-evaluating or underestimating our own cognitive performance lies at the core of imposter-syndrome, something that many academics are familiar with and is detrimental to mental health. By the way, one way to battle imposter-syndrome is by creating a space in which it is more normal to talk about it, something that mental health awareness can really help with.


What might mental imagery be able to tell us about mental health?

Mental imagery can both be a harmful mental health symptom, such as hallucinations or flashbacks to traumatic events, but can also be used as part of psychological interventions to treat ill mental health. There are large differences between people in their experience of mental imagery, where some people say their mental imagery is as vivid as real perception and some people reporting not experiencing mental images at all (something called ‘aphantasia’). The exact relationship between mental imagery and mental health is still very much under investigation.


What is the best thing about your role as the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging’s Wellbeing Champion? 

The feeling that I am contributing to a more positive and supportive environment.


What is one thing you wish more people understood about mental health and mental illness?

That poor mental health is something that so many of us are going to have to deal with at some point and that it is not something that anybody chooses.


This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is “nature”: why do you think nature is so important for our wellbeing?

I think that we all spend too much time actively processing input and we underestimate how important it is to just do nothing and take a break from this. Spending time in nature can be a really good way of decoupling from day-to-day stimulation and giving our minds some much needed rest.


And finally, can you share one of your best tips for taking care of your mental health?

Talk about what you’re going through. Too often, we keep our negative thoughts and feelings all to ourselves which makes us lose perspective on them and make us feel that we are alone in our experience. More often than not, sharing those things will help us put them in perspective and also connect more to the people around us; both of which are hugely beneficial to our mental health.