The importance of discussing mental health
by Karen Charles, NABS Senior support advisor
Today is Time to Talk Day in the UK, devoted to a nationwide conversation around the importance of mental health.
We are by nature social beings, and this ongoing global pandemic has seen our lives fractured irreparably; our ability to see and be with loved ones and friends was curtailed and we lost physical access to these crucial support systems. Uncertainty graduated from being what we thought was a temporary house guest to a live-in companion. Many of us were isolated in how we were feeling; afraid, anxious, grieving, angry, alone, scared for loved ones who were vulnerable, uncertain about something and everything.
When we needed comfort, this may not have been accessible, and yet another video call could not replace face-to-face human interaction. The cultural adage of ‘keep calm and carry on’ soon became a burden. Many of us experienced anxiety for the first time, and for those who know it well, it was exacerbated.
Talking about our problems and how we are feeling helps us begin to feel better by kicking off the healing process and reducing emotional distress.
While there is proven science to support this, I love my mum’s no-nonsense perspective – ’better out than in’ – which she also liberally applied to numerous other subjects.
For me, this was never more true than when my dad passed at the beginning of the pandemic. He was in a care home and Covid spread like wildfire. We were in full lockdown, so I was isolated from family and friends and had to fight to see him. As he passed in a hospice, I was offered bereavement counselling. Culturally, I am Black Caribbean British, and we generally do not seek this type of help, so I ignored it.
A funeral, bereft of the usual protocols, wishes or cultural nuances and with just five of us to acknowledge his existence and say our goodbyes, I welcomed the hugs I received and gave, not knowing it would be several months before I would receive another. At a time when we should have been surrounded by family and friends and received an abundance of hugs and comfort in person, there was silence. Sitting with the seclusion and absence of this began to engulf me and I made the call to the bereavement counsellor.
To be listened to, to share what was going on for me and be truly heard, was a liberation.
I am familiar with the positive effects of talking and truly being heard as I have long been the person friends, family and colleagues naturally seek out to share with and bounce off of. These experiences influenced me to finally follow my heart and become a full-time coach and mentor, and to NABS as a senior support advisor on its advice line.
There is a long-standing stigma around mental health, ranging from embarrassment or shame to being seen as different, which often gets in the way of us seeking support. It then builds and builds until something gives, resulting in burnout, ill health or worse.
Being present in someone’s time of need is for me a privilege and a gift to them.
Recently, I spoke with a caller to the NABS Advice Line who has been experiencing anxiety for some time and it had steadily been increasing. We talked about how their anxiety showed up for them and the impact, and explored what may be contributing to this. They were emotional and tearful as they shared. We concluded that therapy would be the most beneficial next step in helping them manage their anxiety. They shared their relief at being able to talk to someone and be heard without judgement, especially as mental health, and seeking help, was frowned upon in their culture. As someone with a cultural parallel, I was able to relate and be considerate of this in our conversation. Many calls end with callers expressing their gratitude at being heard and we can feel the positive shift in their demeanour.
At the moment, 34% of callers to the NABS Advice Line are from those seeking emotional support around their mental health and wellbeing. Of those, a huge 55% are seeking help around their mental health. We have seen increasing demand for this support as we move from the initial fight, flight or freeze physiological protective response to recognizing the impact the pandemic is having on how we are feeling. We’re now starting to experience the mental health ramifications of the past two years.
Time to Talk Day creates the perfect opportunity for you to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Whether you call the NABS Advice Line, speak to a mental health first aider at work or confide in a trusted friend or family advisor, you may find that one conversation is the start of your journey toward feeling stronger.
This was originally published in The Drum.