Mental Health Awareness Week

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This is Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.  It’s certainly been a strange old year, and one that’s been extremely tough for many people. We are currently awaiting confirmation, later today, that we will be allowed to hug our relatives and friends as of next Monday.  This will apparently involve making “informed personal decisions”; and Scientific Experts are advising that “hugs should be selective, short, and avoid face-to-face contact”. The restrictions have been necessary, but did you ever think you’d live in a world where you had to wait for permission from the authorities to hug your own relatives and friends, and instructions on how to do so?!  In the meantime,  big virtual hugs for anyone who wants them ((virtual hugs 🙂  ))!

Obviously everyone’s experiences will have been different, depending on their personal circumstances and the ways and extent to which the pandemic has impacted on those, but hopefully we’re now well on the way back to some sort of normality.  However, sadly, the same can’t be said of India, Brazil and many other countries, and, as keeps being said, no-one’s really safe until everyone’s safe.  But we’re out of lockdown now, and, hooray, that means that weekend outings to the countryside and the seaside after a week of being trapped with work are back on.  And I want to raise a very large glass to the Victorians and the Edwardians for providing us with our wonderful public parks, without which, whilst waiting to be let out of lockdown, I’d have gone even madder than I already am.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “nature”, and the Mental Health Foundation have explained that this is because “going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health” and “even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress”.  Too true.  I don’t know how I’d have managed if I hadn’t been able to go for walks round the local park during the lockdowns, especially the first lockdown when we weren’t supposed to be going more than a few miles from home.

It’s funny how, when I can’t bear the noise of dogs barking or engines revving, I find the sound of birdsong very relaxing.  And best of all are the flowers.  Especially daffodils!   I’m a bit obsessive about daffodils.  The start of the first lockdown coincided with the daffodil season, and being able to see the daffodils and then the bluebells and the blossom really did make it a lot less difficult to cope with everything.

It was so hard not being able to go to the Lake District, though, or to Blackpool, or the Peaks, or the various National Trust, English Heritage and other properties which I usually visit.  I’m extremely grateful to the National Trust, English Heritage and Windermere Lake Cruises for getting things open again as soon as they were able to, even if it was with limited numbers!  I even had a full week in the Lakes last summer, for the first time ever, and having that time there, rather than being in a rush on a day trip or a weekend break, was wonderful.  We’re very fortunate to have so many lovely places within relatively easy reach.  And they really have helped in what’s been a tough year.

Just a few little (well, little-ish) rants here, though.

Firstly, I know all the reasons for lockdown, but it’s been particularly hard on people in densely-populated urban areas.  We haven’t got a lot of green space.  We’ve got high proportions of residents who haven’t got gardens.  And, being densely-populated and having a lot of people in jobs which can’t be done at home, those of us in the old industrial heartlands of Northern England, the Midlands, the central belt of Scotland, South West Wales, and Belfast, were the ones put under additional travel restrictions in the autumn.  It was really hard for us – not helped by media outlets showing pictures of crowds in public parks and tut-tutting.  Yes, of course we were in the public parks.  Where else were we supposed to go?  We’re very lucky to have a very big and very lovely public park near us, and I’m extremely grateful for that, but, more than once, it got to a point where I felt like re-enacting the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.  Hopefully, the days of lockdowns are over, but it was pretty frustrating.  And as for those local councils which decided to lock all the public toilets …

Secondly, about annoying people who spoil things for others.  Yes, I’m sure a lot of people think I’m incredibly annoying, but at least I don’t make a lot of noise or mess … which is more than can be said for dog-owners who let their horrible dogs bark their heads off and or jump up at other people, bikers who rev their engines so loudly that other people can’t hear themselves think, or anyone who drops litter.  Please, folks, clean up after yourselves, keep the noise down and keep your dogs under control.  Other people do not want your “precious fur baby” (how I hate that expression) jumping all over them or barking so loudly that they can’t hear themselves think.

OK, rant over!  Oh dear, that got a bit longer than I’d intended!   But having access to open spaces is very important.  Yes, you can walk along the pavements, but it’s not very relaxing when you keep having to stop to cross a road or wait for someone to reverse out of their drive, and looking at cars and houses isn’t quite the same as looking at trees and flowers.  And nature’s always there – whatever’s been happening over the past year, the seasons have come and gone as usual, the flowers have come and gone as usual, and the baby animals have been born as usual.  Turn, turn, turn.  There’s something rather reassuring about that.  Something a bit frightening, too, as you watch the months slip-sliding away, but, mostly, something reassuring.

It’s hard to find the time, when you’ve got work and housework to do, and there are traffic jams and queues everywhere, but finding that bit of time to “connect” with nature really is worth it.

If anyone’s read this, thank you!   Enjoy the flowers, enjoy the trees, enjoy the birdsong … but, if you are struggling, please ask for help.

 

Football, Prince William and our mental health

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This isn’t an easy subject to talk about, but it remains a sad fact that suicide is the biggest killer of young British men, and that 75% of people in the UK who take their own lives are men.  It does seem to remain very difficult for men to discuss mental health issues, and it’s great that Prince William’s involvement in highlighting this very important issue is bringing it more attention.  Even a few years ago, there’d never have been an hour-long programme on prime time TV on BBC 1 about mental health.

He’s made a very good point about how people internalised their grief and trauma after the two world wars, as the feeling at the time was that everyone should try to move on and put those times behind them, and that we need to avoid doing that as we come to terms with the effects of the coronavirus and lockdown.  It was good to hear him talking about how the, much-deserved, “heroes” tag mustn’t be allowed to deter frontline workers from seeking any help they might need: I read an article by someone who helped to treat victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, saying the same thing.

And could we all be nice, please?  Whilst the majority of people *are* showing great kindness at this difficult time, there’ve been some very spiteful posts on social media of late, I won’t even say what I think of the appalling way in which some employers are treating their staff, and there’ve also been reports of parents being abused for either saying that they *will* send their children back to school or saying that they *won’t* send their children back to school.  The last things we need are nastiness and division.  Again, could we all be nice, please?  And, if you’re struggling, shout.  Men, this means you too!

What a weird year this is.  This programme was, as the title suggests, originally supposed to be about role that football can play in helping men to deal with mental health issues, and about well-known players joining Prince William in encouraging men to speak out by discussing their own experiences.

We saw a number of male footballers and fans – this was very much about male mental health – speaking out about their mental health issues, and we also heard about the SANDS United football teams, which are for men who’ve lost babies either before, during or just after birth.  It’s a way of bonding and of coming together.  And, whilst it seems a very long time ago now, we were all encouraged to take a minute to think about mental health issues before the start of the FA Cup 3rd round matches in Saturday.  The campaign was making progress, and getting a lot of attention …

… and then coronavirus hit us.  People have been cut off from their support networks, whether that’s grassroots football teams or anything else, and from things which we enjoy and which are important to us and which are an important outlet for us – which, for many of us (female as well as male!) is football.  And we don’t know what the long term effects of all this are going to be, in this country and everywhere else.

There’s the general trauma of the world being turned upside down, and the anxiety that that brings, as well as the fear that we or our loved ones may contract the virus.  There’s the trauma of being separated from our loved ones, and, for some people, of not being able to go out at all – it’s a lonely time.

There’s the upset of plans being cancelled.  And, yes, it is OK to be upset about this.  I am very sad that my holidays have been cancelled: they are the highlights of my year and I plan them so carefully and look forward to them so much.  And, as someone who overplans everything – it’s part of having anxiety – I find it very hard not being able to plan anything.  Going forward, there are, sadly, likely to be business failures and job losses.  And there are concerns that other health problems may have gone undiagnosed during lockdown.

And those are just the indirect effects of the virus.  Tens of thousands of people have died, leaving grieving relatives and friends who haven’t even been able to hold proper funerals.  It’s feared that many people who survived severe cases of the virus may suffer from PTSD, and that this may also affect people working in hospitals and care homes.

It’s not like the First World War or the Second World War.  No-one’s saying that it is.  But it is important that people don’t go down the “don’t talk about it” route: we’ve learnt from experience that that’s not a good idea.  And it’s crucial that people be nice to each other.  Some employers are behaving very poorly.  And the amount of nastiness and political points-scoring is appalling – it would be at any time, but especially at a time like this.  On top of that, we’ve now got parents being told that they’re depriving their children of their education and the company of their friends if they don’t send them back to school, and that they’re putting them in danger if they do.  Will the people doing this just shut up, OK!  Other people’s choices are not your business.  Everyone’s circumstances are different.

No-one could have seen this coming, and, like so many other things, this programme was partly overtaken by events.  But most of it was filmed before coronavirus hit, and we saw some very powerful and frank conversations about mental health issues, even actually about suicide attempts.  This is an incredibly important subject, and the fact that we’ve got a future king spearheading the campaign to address it says a lot.  This was a very moving programme.  Please, guys, we love you – if you’re struggling, speak out, and ask for help xxx.