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Ian’s blog: Seriously, let’s talk!

World Mental Health Day was observed for the first time on October 10, 1992. That’s almost 30 years ago and now, in 2020, the need for greater investment and greater access is needed more than ever before, writes Ian Lamb.

My own mental health took its toll back in the mid 1990s and as I can recall from back then, statistics were saying that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental distress or disorder. And 25 years later, as I still continue to deal with my long standing mental health disorders, we’ve seen multiple recessions, wars, terrorist attacks and even a global pandemic, all of which create stress and uncertainty.

So the stark reality is that the 1 in 4 people suffering with a mental health issue is likely to be just scratching the surface.  Perhaps the 1 in 4 people who are struggling are the ones who have actually come forward by seeking help and support for their feelings and thoughts and quite possibly even have a diagnosis such as schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders, PTSD and, of course, depression and anxiety. The list of the many disorders and treatments can vary but the one thing that does connect them all is communication.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, there was a big drive to encourage people to talk.  So many various campaigns have been urging people to talk about your thoughts and feelings such as Mind in Bradford, ITV Hub, Time To Talk, Samaritans and, of course, the many useful blogs and various social media platforms, all of which encourage people who may be experiencing mental distress and/or emotional conflict to take heed and speak up. And quite rightly so. 

However, better access tells me straight away we need more therapists, mental health workers and counsellors. We need more people so that more people can get talking and open up!

We need people who can provide that safe space and environment because despite the many positives that social media can provide with opening up and talking, people still need to feel secure when you are talking about very deep and personal feelings and thoughts that you may have. Platforms such as twitter, in my opinion, aren’t always the best or safest way.

The first thing one may experience when opening up is how vulnerable you feel and it’s important you open up to someone who will respect you for that and who isn’t going to take advantage. After years and years and decades upon decades of not daring to talk in case of ill-informed judgements and stigmas, it’s become “easier” to continue with that stiff upper lip and stay quiet! 

If keeping schtum is your thing and it has worked for you then fair play to you but for a lot of people, keeping quiet leads to swings and roundabouts; the relapses and revolving doors and the very recognisable voice in your head questioning ‘how and why am I here again’ as your own thoughts become muddled. 

You may find yourself struggling to get going as all your energy and enthusiasm has disappeared and any feelings either become so intense you can hardly breathe or they become void, empty and therefore, you’re unable to feel anything.  And the longer you go on with keeping quiet then the more profound and intense mental distress can become.  

Perhaps, you are finding yourself drinking more alcohol because you find it blocks out any ill feelings you have? Maybe you’re seeking that ‘lift’ from other sources such as drugs? Do you find yourself getting more angry? Or perhaps, you just can’t find the motivation to get out of bed? Or just maybe, the older you get, the more bitter you’re becoming? 
 
So Why Talk?  
Trauma comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. None of us are exempt. And 2020 has been a turbulent year for many people due to the pandemic that is coronovirus. This has created trauma in so many ways due to sudden loss and intense changes.  

Whether you’ve experienced furlough or you’ve lost your business or job, then this is a big change that so many people will be able to relate to.  Students have just received their exam results; both studying and undertaking examinations can be very intense and stressful anyway but when your hard work hasn’t paid off for whatever reason, then you’re bound to feel deflated.  

And then of course, there’s bereavement. So many lives have been sadly lost due to either coronavirus itself or people have been bereaved during the pandemic. Bereavement is always going to be traumatic but with coronavirus added in, it’s bound to be more intense simply because people have not had the funeral they hoped for.  It does bring comfort during a bereavement when people gather and give a good send off to the person who’s died but due to rules and regulations, this hasn’t been possible for a lot of people. Therefore, people may well still feel like they’ve not said their goodbyes or felt like they’ve paid the respects that feel important which prolongs many people’s grieving process. 

Of course, when we lose someone, that comfort of having people around is important. Family and friends all rally round but this too has been denied for a lot of people which can make someone feel even more alone and again prolong the grieving process because people have struggled with being able to reach out. 

Yes, we’ve got several ways through media such as Zoom but this isn’t the same as being able to give someone a hug or a pat on the back. Even if you find yourself not saying anything at all, just by being there can help someone feel supported and not alone. 
 
Why talking is vital now 
The nights are drawing in and it’s a known fact that people do struggle more with their mental health during the winter months. With so much already happening then it’s vital for people to open up and talk about how they feel and what they’re thinking.  

Naturally, trust is important and it helps if you can feel comfortable with whoever you’re talking to. So talk to your family, your friends, ask them how they are feeling and express how you’re feeling by being as open and as honest as you can be. The chances are, the other person may feel similar to yourself especially if there’s been a death in the family. 

So even if the other person appears all smiles and as though they are ‘getting on with it’, are they? Or has that become their way of coping – by not talking about it and, therefore, not thinking about it? It’s hard to take stock, to be able to sit and reflect and to somehow let go of those emotional thoughts and feelings that have built up and ultimately created a blockage! 

Not only are the nights becoming longer but the end of 2020 isn’t so far away and with that comes many celebrations; Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Yule, Thanksgiving, all of which are cultural and religious celebrations that see family gatherings. This time last year did look different – no restrictions in place and deaths of a loved one are bound to be felt this year and this is enough to trigger the traumas, especially if it’s something that has kept building up. 

Of course, everyone is different and people do deal with their own things and in their own time and certainly, talking isn’t going to be the miracle cure. It isn’t going to change those traumatic events which have already taken place but a problem shared is a problem halved and when things are out in the open, there is a positive chemical reaction deep within.

Talking isn’t easy. In truth, it can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do because no-one enjoys feeling vulnerable and that’s one of the feelings you may find. I certainly did and at times, still do. I’m sure no-one wants to feel a lack of control either as you may find yourself questioning: ‘Have I said too much or too little?’ But it is worth it!

Through those uncomfortable feelings and those long pauses and silences, after you’ve dared to say how heavy your head feels or how much your heart is breaking, it is vital you find those moments where you can talk. Sometimes, talking can take ‘several talks’ while other times, just that one outpour can be enough to clear the debris and somehow make some sense of those intense thoughts and feelings.  

By opening up, not only can this help you to reconnect with your loved ones but it’s also good for you, your body and your mental state. 
 
Who to talk to 
If you really can’t open up to your family, your friends then you’re not alone. So take the opportunity to ring the many organisations that are out there and encouraging EVERYONE to talk. There’s nothing wrong with seeking counselling, and Guide-Line – the telephone service that Mind in Bradford runs – is a place you can call to offload. 

After the difficulty of these last few months and the uncertainty of how the land lies now and in the following months then it’s going to be understandable for people to feel unsure and worried. So you’re not alone with these thoughts and feelings, Guide-Line has extended its times for access. So please give them a ring! 

The person you speak to will be trained and very respectful of you and your confidentiality. It’s not only about supportive listening and encouraging you to talk but they are also able to recommend the many strategies there are for you to try which you may well find both encouraging and beneficial. 

And as this year’s World Mental Health Day is aimed at having ‘greater investment and greater access’ then remember mental health does not discriminate. No-one is exempt from suffering. People of all ages should be able to access help and support with anything they’re struggling with when it comes to mental health.

Posted on: 10th October 2020

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