It’s in the bag: Therapeutic activities and mental illness


A baby facing a new experience reaches for a security blanket for comfort and familiarity. An office worker arrives home after a long day, anticipating the newest episode of her favorite television show. Sometimes, the smallest acts can prove the most effective when trying to unwind.

For those going through symptoms of mental health disorders, however, decompressing may seem like an arduous task. Conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder can prove difficult to overcome on a daily basis.

In an interview with The Guardian in the United Kingdom, mental health advocate Polly Rogers describes herself as a “mental health warrior.” She was in recovery from a mental illness and dealing with the occasional intrusive thought or episode of distress. Unable to adopt a particular activity to cope with the stress, Rogers thought up the “recovery bag,” a parcel containing items designed to engage hands and mind while diverting anxious or stressful thoughts.

Rogers realized that her recovery bag idea would help other people potentially experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm. She set up a crowdfunding page seeking online donations to finance the project; her friends and family helped raise funds with bake sales and garage sales.

Rogers included items including a notebook describing the project and a coloring book to promote mindfulness along with objects to pull attention away from stressful thoughts.  Jenny Davies, one recovery bag owner, said she was not in a good place, suffering from depression and attempting suicide and self-harm, sometimes too afraid even to seek medical help. She said, “Thanks to Polly, I was able to take myself out of crisis and call some of the helplines on the list she provided and help myself to get help.”

To raise awareness about recovery bags, Rogers uses Twitter and Instagram to reach out to people who may be unwilling or unmotivated to seek professional help for a mental health condition. These bags could provide a temporary means of working through stressful mental health conditions until a person enrolls in clinical treatment.

Almost 90 percent of those who had received a bag told Rogers it had helped them feel more hopeful and she now plans to work in cooperation with schools encouraging students to make recovery bags.

In addition to medication and modalities of therapy, activities designed for de-stressing can make a difference when dealing with mental illness. For more information about addressing mental health treatment and recovery, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time for further assistance.

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