The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those true once in a lifetime moments that has impacted everybody, possibly in a long-lasting way. Since leaving the military I have often spoken about the stigma attached to mental health and the feeling of shame and weakness associated with it. One of the very few silver linings that has emerged from COVID is the realisation by many, previously untouched by mental health issues, that this is not some 'dirty little secret' to be endured by sufferers and those around them. Mental health and more importantly well-being is something that affects every person in some way and certainly a conversation that was urgently needed in society.
One of my concerns is, once life begins to return to normal will this conversation start to diminish until it eventually becomes the hushed whispers it once was? In my company Deloitte, very positive action has been taken and a priority has been placed on the mental health and wellbeing of all employees, one area I have been fortunate to be asked to be involved in was the implementation of a Wellbeing Committee within Cyber. So far, the committee has managed to pull together a lot of data from all stakeholders within the firm and we have a great action plan for the new year ahead. Being involved in activities like this has had a huge impact for me personally but also many others have reached out to me, both publicly and privately, to say that it has helped them to acknowledge that they need a little help in their own lives. I think that this is a watershed moment for mental health discussions, both in the UK and globally and like pandoras box once opened will be very hard to ignore going forward without taking positive action to address and more importantly allocate the proper resources required to do so.
One of the reasons I chose now to write another article was the fast approaching ‘festive period’ which I know many look forward to with real excitement and joy, rightly so in my opinion. This year will be very different though with many who normally are excited will be feeling a large amount of apprehension and fear as they look forward to a bleak Christmas not being surrounded by family and friends as they normally would. This is how many people struggling with mental health would normally feel at this time of year and in fact at many other times throughout the year. This is a message that the government need to have hammered home because they are likely to be the first to forget this once COVID is but a bad memory to many of us, but the experiences many are feeling, right now, in this moment are daily life experience to many sufferers and those who live with and support them. I don’t want this article to be all doom and gloom but I do feel it is important to labour that point a little as it is something that does affect a silent minority, which does grow on a daily basis.
So, if you are feeling the pressure at the minute or supporting somebody who is, what are some of the things you can do to try and deal with it? Some great advice from mind.org.uk
Be gentle, generous and patient with yourself
· It's ok to prioritise what's best for you, even if others don't seem to understand.
· Think about what you need and how you might be able to get it.
· Consider talking to someone you trust about what you need to cope.
Think about what might be difficult about Christmas for you, and if there's anything that might help you cope. It might be useful to write this down. For example:
- If you sometimes experience flashbacks, panic attacks or dissociation, make a note of what helps during these moments, and keep it with you.
- If you're going to be somewhere unfamiliar for Christmas, think about what you need to help you cope. Are there things you can bring to make you feel more comfortable? Or is there somewhere you can go to take a break?
- Certain places may feel very uncomfortable for you, for example if they bring back difficult memories. Could you plan to spend less time in difficult places, or not go at all? Are there any reasonable excuses for you to stay away?
- Think about whether you really need to do things if you're not looking forward to them. Can you do them differently or for less time?
- Make a list of any services that you might need and their Christmas opening hours. Our page of useful contacts has some suggestions.
- If you're worried about feeling lonely or isolated this Christmas, think about some activities to help pass the time. For example, this might be doing something creative or spending time in nature. See our pages on relaxation for more ideas. Our page on Christmas and coronavirus also has some tips for spending Christmas alone during the pandemic.
- Try to plan something nice to do after Christmas. Having something to look forward to next year could make a real difference.
- If other people's questions are difficult, you could plan some answers in advance, so you're not caught off guard. For example, about your plans or how you're doing.
- Think about how to end difficult conversations. It's ok to tell someone you don't want to talk about something, or to change the subject. It might help to practise what you'll say.
- Suggest an activity or an easy way to move on, if you want to help end an unwanted conversation. For example, this could be playing a game, or taking a screen break if you’re on a video call.
- If other people don't seem to understand how you're feeling, you could share this information with them. You could also think about writing down how you're feeling and sharing this with them, if conversations are difficult.
Look after yourself
- Set a 'start' and 'finish' time for what you count as Christmas. Remind yourself that it won't last forever.
- Set your boundaries. Say no to things that aren't helpful for you.
- Let yourself experience your own feelings. Even if they don't match what's going on around you, they're still real and valid.
- Take time out. Do something to forget that it's Christmas or distract yourself. For example, you could watch a film or read a book that's set in the summer. Or you could try learning a new skill.
- Let yourself have the things you need. For example, if you need to take time out instead of doing an activity.
- If you can't avoid something difficult, plan something for yourself afterwards to help reduce the stress or distress you might feel.
Talking to other people
- Let people know you're struggling. It can often feel like it's just you when it's not. See our page on opening up to others about your mental health for tips.
- It doesn't have to be people who are already in your life. You could join an online community to talk others who have similar experiences to yours. Mind’s online community Side by Side is a safe place to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
- Tell people what they can stop, start or continue doing to help you. For example, you could let them know any activities you’d like to be involved in, and what they can do to support you during Christmas. Or you could tell them any questions or topics that you find hard to discuss, so they can avoid asking about them.
- You don't have to justify yourself to others. But you might feel pressured to, especially if someone asks a lot of questions. It could help to let them know that certain situations are difficult for you and tell them what they can do to help. It might also help to tell them that you understand they may see things in a different way.
- You might not be able to make others understand. That's OK. It's not your responsibility to convince other people or get their permission to look after yourself.
If you're struggling this Christmas, you may want to find support for your mental health. There are a few ways that you can do this:
- Call Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone). They're always open.
- Text SHOUT to 85258. This is a free 24/7 crisis text service run by Shout.
- Visit our useful contacts page for a list of organisations who can support your mental health or help with practical problems.
In conclusion I think the most important things are not just talking but listening too, when you ask somebody are they ok, are you actually listening to the answer or is this just one of those things that politeness means you ask?
If you are one who is struggling please reach out to somebody, even if it is a stranger via one of the resources above, dont struggle in silence, as I did for far too many years as believe me it is affecting those closest to you also.
Lets work together to remove the stigma, there is no need to suffer in silence and the conversation must continue.
I want to wish every one of my connections a very merry Christmas and heres hoping we have a much more positive 2021!