“The truth is that we don’t need to be experts. First and foremost what we need is to care. To listen, to reassure, and to be there…”
I think I’m safe in speaking for all of us when I say we’ll be glad to see the back of 2020. And while I’m a firm believer that our greatest achievements can ultimately come from our greatest adversities, for many of us right now the return of some semblance of normality would be more than enough.
Nobody has been spared the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, whether that be financially, physically or emotionally. But for some, the stresses, worries and uncertainty have hit particularly hard, and the nation’s mental health has been significantly affected. If we are being realistic about this, the effects are going to be felt for a long time to come.
1 in 4 people are known to experience a mental health problem in any given year; and let’s face it, 2020 has been far from any given year. With many more people experiencing mental health problems for the first time, and lacking the coping strategies to manage their mental health and to recover, it’s important that looking after our mental health – and the mental health of others – is at the front of our minds.
I’d like to offer some thoughts on how we can all help to support the mental health of those around us – family, friends and colleagues.
The first and perhaps most important thing that I would like to highlight, is that we can all help.
You don’t need to be an expert
Many of us can be afraid to begin a conversation about mental health. We may be scared that we will say the wrong thing, that we don’t know enough about mental health, or that we won’t know what to say or do with what we are told.
The truth is that we don’t need to be experts. First and foremost what we need is to care. To listen, to reassure, and to be there. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to be able to ‘save’ someone. We are fortunate to live in an age where we can access almost anything we need to know at the touch of a button, and we can find out more about mental health from numerous sources such as Mind, or Time to Change.
But first, we must care.
Create a safe space to talk
It can be so difficult to open up to somebody and admit that we are struggling and need help. This can be especially true in circumstances where others are struggling too, and we can minimise our problems as not being as significant as what other people are facing.
Despite a huge amount having been done over recent years to raise awareness and understanding, there is still stigma attached to mental health problems. It’s so important that we create an environment in which our loved ones know that they can talk to us. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking head-on about mental health; it can be going for a relaxing walk, or sharing a chat and cuppa over Facetime.
If you are concerned about a loved one during Covid, Time to Change have some simple tips to help:
Signpost to further help and support
The care of family, friends and loved ones, can be so important when struggling with a mental health problem. But often times, that isn’t enough on its own to help someone to overcome them.
It’s important to encourage someone to seek professional help when their life is being significantly impacted by their mental health. Sources of help include:
• GP – who may prescribe medication (people can be afraid to take medication but it helps a lot of people to manage their mental health)
• Middlesbrough and Stockton Mind – have a range of projects and services to help people, including projects based around gardening, art, and volunteering. They also have a free talking therapies service. For more information please visit: http://www.middlesbroughandstocktonmind.org.uk/
• CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) – our children and young people have been particularly affected by Covid, with schools closing and much uncertainty about the year ahead, particularly for those that are due to take exams. Information from Mind indicates that self-harm amongst young people has increased due to Covid. If you are concerned about the mental health of a child, a referral can be made to CAMHS via a parent / carer, a GP, or by a teacher. You can find more information on young people’s mental health at Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk/
• SHOUT – for people that struggle to talk about their mental health, the free text service SHOUT can offer a real source of support. More information can be found here: https://giveusashout.org/
• Samaritans – for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Samaritans have volunteers that are there to listen. They can be called for free on 116 123.
5 Ways to Wellbeing
The 5 Ways to Wellbeing offers a very useful framework for how all of us can do small, daily things to improve and maintain our mental wellbeing. The 5 ways are:
• Connect with others
• Be active
• Take notice
• Keep learning
Mindkit offers lots of suggestions for things that can be done for each of the 5 ways. If you are concerned about a loved one, why not suggest things that they may be able to do, or that you could do together? Visit Mindkit for ideas: https://www.mindkit.org.uk/5-ways-to-wellbeing/
Look after yourself
It can be very difficult trying to support somebody with a mental health problem. You may feel upset to see them struggling, and feel powerless to help. Sometimes the person may seem ungrateful or unappreciative of your help and concern – remember that mental health problems can lead to people acting out of character and try not to take it personally.
It is important that you don’t neglect your own wellbeing. Consider how you apply the 5 Ways to Wellbeing to your own life, and seek additional support for yourself too if you feel you need it.
Remember, mental health problems can be treated
When somebody we care about is going through a mental health problem it can be very distressing and we may wonder whether we will ever get back the person that we love. However, the good news is that mental health problems can be treated and successfully managed.
Furthermore, whilst going through a mental health problem can undoubtedly be traumatic and painful, many people are able to grow through their experience and learn lessons about life and themselves that can lead to a better life as a result.
I hope that you have found this to be helpful. Please share any tips that you might have for supporting someone with a mental health problem.
Matthew Williams is a middle-aged single dad of two from Middlesbrough who is grimly hanging onto his hair – which remains its original colour – and teeth. He started writing in 2015 following divorce and the strange, alternative reality of online dating. Matthew published his first book in December 2017 and never looked back. He’s a passionate advocate for mental health and has developed a unique new personal development course, ‘Change’, based around storytelling principles and designed to help people to make positive changes in their lives.
Find out more about Matthew’s work at www.afamiliarstranger.co.uk
Something Changed – Stumbling Through Divorce, Dating and Depression, August 2017, Sixth Element Publishing
A Familiar Stranger, December 2019, Sixth Element Publishing
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