Mental Health. Everyone has it and just like physical health, it is changeable. I’m sure some of you reading this may feel you’re sick of hearing about it. I’ve definitely heard it said more than a few times. I would hazard a guess to say if you are sick of hearing about it, you are in the very fortunate position to have never experienced the distress of poor mental health. This is fantastic for you, but it doesn’t negate the problem. This is a very real public health issue that is affecting our children, young people and wider society.
In 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales. Around three-quarters of registered deaths in 2019 were among men (4,303 deaths), which follows a consistent trend back to the mid-1990s. Despite having a low number of deaths overall, rates among the under 25's have generally increased in recent years, particularly 10 to 24 year-old females where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level with 3.1 deaths per 100,000 females in 2019. (ONS 2020)
I can only deduce that the current global situation with COVID-19 and the associated restrictions will have some sort of negative effect on these figures, or at least a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people as a whole. 2020 has undoubtedly been a tough one and while isolation has been difficult for most, it has been unbearable for some.
This year hasn’t been great, but the one thing it has made us do is stop to think. That has been hard for many children and adults included. Being with our thoughts and in our own company has forced us to consider many things that would have usually been pushed down by our busy lives. But maybe, this time to think can be used for good. Maybe things that have risen to the surface need to be discussed. Maybe this can avoid some tragedies.
But what do we do? How can we help? I’ve seen numerous social media campaigns in recent months relating to the importance of good mental health and that’s great, but it can’t stop there. It can feel like a daunting prospect talking about mental health if you’re not accustomed to it, but it needn’t be. What is really at the bones of it, is honest communication. You don’t need to worry about having the right words or saying the wrong thing. The fact that you are truly interested and present in the situation is often enough to make a difference.
I think what many of us underestimate is the power of our undivided attention. To be truly listened to is so overwhelmingly powerful. Think about the last time you felt like that. When you were listened to, understood. I’d hazard a guess that you remember it with fondness, that it made you feel good, valued. Listening without agenda or the need to reply with an opinion, is a wonderful thing. You don’t need to have the answers; you need to let someone find their own.
Unfortunately, in today’s world having or giving undivided attention can be hard to come by. We are busy, we are distracted and we are surrounded by stimulus vying for our attention. I say, let’s at least try. I’m not saying that’s easy, I struggle to do it. To put down the phone, to ignore the emails, but it’s so important. When we stop, we notice. We notice subtle changes in our children, our friends, our partners. Then we ask the question and listen. ‘How are you feeling?’ and if the answer is ‘fine’, we maybe ask again.
I wish you all the most wonderful Christmas and hope you get time to spend with the people you love the most.
(Operations Manager / Trainee Psychotherapist)