All of us can appreciate some degree of negative impact on our own wellbeing with the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing. As somebody with mental health problems the current situation is both increasing my anxiety levels and reinforcing my negative thoughts and subsequent low mood. Indeed all the ‘usual’ things I would do to help manage my mental health are out of bounds; Park Run, meeting friends or going to the cinema.
As a Time to Change Champion, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and wondering what difference can I make now? A large part of the work I do involves having conversations about mental health with strangers. However, I’ve got to prioritise my own self-care. The tools we’ve been trained to use so effectively over the years – sharing some of our lived experience of mental health through conversation with others – does not feel compatible with current restrictions and self-isolation.
However, there has never been a time when so many us of us are experiencing the negative impacts of the lockdown on our own mental health. Bearing that in mind, I’ve had conversations remotely over the last couple of days which, on reflection, aren’t all that different the conversations I was previously having in person.
I was checking in with an acquaintance on the phone as she was self-isolating. It felt totally natural and appropriate to ask how was this all making her feel. She replied, “Really anxious I’m physically shaking.” During the conversation, I mentioned that I had previous experience of anxiety and this situation was making it worse. I ended by saying how important it was to talk about it and seek help if needed. This person was not previously aware that I had mental health problems, and I doubt very much if I would have shared this if she wasn’t anxious herself. This everyday conversation was a mixture of empathy, expressing concern for her wellbeing, and me sharing some of my own lived experience to help change attitudes.
The second time I was speaking with my postman through an open window. Again, it’s somebody I wouldn’t normally see to speak with. I thanked him and asked how he was doing? He replied, "This is really getting to me now and I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose my job."
We spoke for a few minutes and I shared that I too struggle with negative thoughts and had to seek help for depression. I said it’s ok not to be ok and talking about it and seeking help is important. He paused, nodded and smiled and I think I may have planted a seed around changing an attitude to seeking help, or a stereotype about mental health problems.
Having those conversations took energy and I don’t always feel like it, but I did feel better afterwards. I still need to prioritise my own self-care and wellbeing, but it made a difference thinking I could still do something as a Time to Change Champion and maybe help change an attitude along the way.