Mental health first aid kit: 10 essential items that will help when life gets tough

Medical expert Dr Zoe Williams explains how a mental health first aid kit can aid emotional wellbeing

A mental health first aid kit can help when your mood dips
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most people know how to deal with a cut finger or sprained ankle - but would you know how to administer mental health first aid?

'Most wouldn’t despite one in six of us is experiencing mental ill-health issues at any given time – including depression and anxiety,' says Dr Zoe Williams, a practicing NHS GP and British TV show This Morning's resident health expert.

And it’s not just about management, or treatment when there is an issue. 'Prevention is crucial for all of us, as every single one of us has the potential to become unwell from a mental health point of view,' Dr Zoe says.

'We need to change the way we view mental health as a society and within our own communities. We should all be taking good care of our mental health in the same way that we should our physical health and working on either one will likely also help the other.'

To help, Dr Zoe has shared 10 items she recommends keeping to hand in a mental health first aid kit, and turning to these when you become aware of your mood taking a turn for the worse...

1. Running shoes

'Research has shown that group exercise can be as effective as antidepressant tablets at treating mild to moderate depression. Exercise that involves concentration, planning and coordination, such as dance, actually helps break the cycle of repetitive, unhelpful thoughts that are sometimes associated with depression.'

With Covid-19 closing gyms and studios around the world, check out our pick of the best fitness apps to get your group exercise sessions online.

In need of some new sneaks? We've picked the best running shoes for men, the best running shoes for women, and the best cross training shoes - so you've got no excuses!

2. Headphones

'Create a playlist of songs that boosts your mood. What works for one person might be heavy rock, while for someone else it could be Disney songs, so if you don’t already know you might need to work out what’s best for you.'

Check out our pick of the best running headphones for some top choices.

3. Phone number of your ‘go to’ person 

'Just having their number or name in your kit will remind you that being in touch, picking up the phone, sending that text to your best friends or asking your colleague to go for a walk with you can be a great tonic for a dip in mood.'

4. Essential oils 

'Of all the senses, smell is most closely linked to memory. Choose a smell that you find soothing. It could even be a sample of your partner’s fragrance.' Stock up on scented candles, or else invest in one of the best diffusers for essential oils, which will transform your living space into an aromatherapy haven.

5. Notepad and pen

'Writing down negative thoughts can help to put them into perspective, or help to validate what you’re feeling. If stress or burnout is the problem, then writing a list and walking away from it for a period of time, to give yourself a break, can be helpful.'

6. Self-penned letter to yourself

'Write this letter when you’re in a good place. No one knows you as well as yourself and therefore you know exactly the best pep talk to prepare for yourself on darker days.'

7. Soothing touch

'Oxytocin is a chemical that is released from the brain when we touch each other in the form of a hug or a kiss. Therefore, it makes sense to have an item in your kit that is soothing to the touch. 

'This can be anything from a particular textile or fabric, the pages of your favourite book, or maybe some hand cream to give yourself a hand massage.'

Also consider a weighted blanket. Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that they "significantly reduced insomnia severity, better sleep maintenance, a higher daytime activity level, and reduced symptoms of fatigue, depression and anxiety."

8. Mindfulness apps

'Now, you probably won’t leave your phone in your first-aid kit, but how about having a list of useful apps that you can use for your mental health? A few to check out are free: Headspace, Stress & Anxiety Companion, and Catch It.

'Practising mindfulness means paying careful attention to what is happening in the present. That can mean focusing on sight, sound, smell, taste or touch, or a thought or emotion. It’s not always easy to get the hang of, so persist if it doesn’t work out for you straight away. 

'It’s also best to start trying out mindfulness when in a good place mentally, then it will be there as a useful tool in your first-aid kit if things take a turn for the worse. '

9. A cup of tea or cocoa

'Apart from taking time out to wait for the kettle to boil, studies have shown that a hot drink helps to regulate positive and negative emotions.'

10. A photograph that makes you happy

'Technology has us connecting less with others, and for many, avoiding others is a defence mechanism when we are feeling low. Looking at a photo can remind us of our purpose in life and that we are loved.'