It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2022. As usual, I’ve dutifully shared this information on my social media profiles, and made suitably supportive noises. I know I did the same last year, and the year before, and probably the year before that. But I have to confess to feeling that being ‘aware’ is very possibly no longer enough. We have to take action. And being ‘aware’ just for a week is definitely not enough. We need to look out for one another all of the time.
The state of the nation’s mental health has made headline news in the past 12 months or so. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2019, you’ll know that the pandemic and its lockdowns did little to help. Anecdotally, within my very small family circle, I can confirm that every one of us has had struggles with our mental health in the past few years… and for many of my friends the same is true. Be it job stress, exam worries, relationship problems, health concerns, issues around self-image or self-esteem, loneliness or isolation… the causes and catalysts that impact our mental wellbeing are as many as they are varied.
In my (albeit humble) opinion, there is a way to go before mental health and wellbeing are afforded the same understanding and acceptance as physical health and wellbeing… and that needs to change. There should be no greater stigma attached to seeking help or taking time off work for mental health reasons than there is for physical conditions… let’s be fair, they can be equally debilitating.
In my ideal world, all workplaces would run a Mental Health First Aid programme, and all line managers would be trained. There would be regular ‘Mental Health days’ and it would be recognised that for many mental health (and a number of physical health) conditions, it’s not a case of being in work or off work… sometimes a little leeway regarding hours or tasks would enable employees to contribute what they can, rather than feel they have to take sick leave. Flexibility and understanding is key.
I would also like to see the communication and vocabulary around mental health issues reconsidered. Anxiety, for example, doesn’t mean you’re just ‘a worrier’; depression doesn’t mean you’re crying into your duvet; and a nervous breakdown… well, let’s just not use that any more as I feel it paints the sufferer in a pretty pathetic light. Instead, I’d love it if humans could describe how they are feeling and other humans could listen without judgement and we could all accept that no two humans feel the same.
Anyway… let me just dismount and get back to the here and now…
The theme of this year’s MHAW is loneliness… and the call to action is to “build meaningful connections with your friends, family, colleagues and communities”. I’m not sure that I consider myself to be lonely, although there are certainly times when I would say I feel isolated. I work from home and live alone, so there could be (and sometimes are) days when I don’t see anyone in real-life… just through the miracle of Teams/Zoom… which is not the same! So it’s important for my wellbeing that I actively take steps to maintain connection with real people, even if slumping on the sofa / in front of the TV may seem like the easier option! This week, for example, I have in my diary after-work/lunchtime walks and coffee/catch-ups with 4 different friends. I can honestly say that yesterday, I arrived to meet my two friends somewhat ‘wound up’, and left after a walk and a cuppa feeling much more zen 😂 And it’s important to say that I didn’t reach out to all of those friends; some of them were the instigators. Because connection is a two-way thing.
So here’s a call to action for anyone reading this post… This week, reach out to a friend, a colleague, a neighbour or a family member and make sure they’re ok. Building connections starts with the laying of a foundation… so perhaps just put that first brick in place this week in recognition of MHAW 2022. And then do the same again next week. And the week after… And if you’d like to reach out to me, then #let’sconnect