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Time To Talk Day – The Power of Small.

Campaigns such as Time to Talk Day remind us that we all have mental health: at any given time many of us may also be experiencing a degree of mental illness.   

In fact 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental health issue in any given year.  It is quite likely that you may know someone who is living with a diagnosed mental health condition.  Equally likely you may also know someone who is struggling with his or her mental health but do not have a diagnosed mental health condition.  Sounds serious and it truly is.  The impact on individuals, their families and friends can be long-lasting and worrying.  That is why I am so pleased that on days like these that we get the opportunity to raise awareness of what is such an important issue.

Mental health, defined by the World Health Organisation, is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”

The focus this year is on encouraging us all to think about how a small conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference.  

How are you?  Are you OK?  Free for a call?   These words are so easy to say or type, yet they are often undervalued for their impact.  In a world where everyone is connected so it seems, and everyone can reach everyone, any time, why is that so many people feel so abandoned and alone? Loneliness has serious consequences for each and every person and we know from studies that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our mental health and wellbeing.   So hearing from someone who cares about you when you are feeling alone can make a such a difference.   Remote working at home combined with the restrictions we all have with meeting each other has exacerbated this issue; a recent study revealed that 37% of Londoners are working and sleeping in the same room restricted from the day-to-day contact of the work-environment and all too often feelings socially isolated.  It is very distressing for them.

There is some cause for optimism. Vaccines have been developed and we can see a glimmer of light at the end of the very long tunnel – there is still uncertainty, anxiety and distress.  We are facing a crisis where these are of course normal reactions, but few of us have ever experienced such a prolonged and extensive time away from all the familiar aspects of our lives — our workplaces, going out and about with friends, joining in our activities and community events, travelling freely.  It is now a year since the world as we knew it changed so suddenly and so drastically.

We are all impacted by this.  Sometimes we put on a brave face and say “I’m fine” whether or not we truly feel that.  At other times we simply do not respond and turn increasingly inward, withdrawing from our world.    These are precisely the times when making every effort to talk and to listen and to just be there matters.  Small gestures, huge results.  

It can be difficult to know what to say, of course but please do not let that put you off making the contact.  Even a faltering few words said with a sincere and kind intent can break the ice and allow someone to feel valued.   I often recommend using the phrase “I notice”.  Spoken quietly and non-judgemental, it often opens a conversation in work, in a family situation, and in so many other settings, a small question but usually with a big answer.  “ I noticed that you are not joining in the conversations during our Zoom meetings” suggests a manager off-line and then pauses to hear that the person is feeling low and with no motivation and the manager can then follow this through to explore how he/she can help.   Usually, the person struggling appreciates the care and concern and takes the opportunity to offload and to talk and accept the offer of support. 

In the beautifully written and illustrated book by Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse,  the boy asks the horse “what is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?”.  

“Help”, said the horse.  Few of us feel brave enough to share our innermost feelings unless someone encourages us with a few opening words showing that they care and have noticed that all is not well.

For over two decades as a mental wellbeing practitioner, I have been encouraging individuals to ask for help recognising that it is a sign of courage not weakness.    Asking for help is a powerful first step and I don’t know anyone who has regretted taking it.   Your few words to someone can help people feel able to make that crucial step of asking for help.  It is a small thing to do with such a big impact.

Only by talking and really listening will we be able to understand each other, to share our thoughts and feelings, to offer each other support and compassion and to make a positive difference.

We have seen beneficial developments in society and with people from all walks of life sharing candid stories about their mental illness and how they have overcome their challenges and in numerous cases, led rewarding and fulfilled lives.

The good news is that employers also recognise how they make a major contribution to health and wellbeing and by creating cultures at work where everyone feels able to talk openly about their mental health this breaks the silence and removes the stigma that has been with us for far too long.    Great progress has been made in understanding mental health, in providing education and training for all employees, offering help and promoting workplace cultures of inclusion and empathy.     

But its up to us to make our own contribution.  Start a small conversation and have a big impact.  Encouraging people to talk, to open up can be the starting point for building supportive social networks, reconnecting with families, sharing experiences and feeling a sense of belonging.

We have learnt that there is no health without mental health.  We have also seen that mental illness should not be feared and can indeed be shared with others. We can live with mental illness, still achieve our goals and dreams, growing strong, walking tall, and facing the world with assurance that we are not alone.  Feel the power of small this week.  

Jayne Carrington – Director of Workplace Health and Wellbeing

“Having collaborated with asa for a number of years, I am delighted to be joining the company and to launch Workplace Health and Wellbeing.  There has never been such a compelling or exciting time for employers to invest in employee wellbeing.  I bring over 30 years of proven, practical experience and am looking forward to working with asa clients”