Mental Health and Your Circle of Six
Hands up who spent the last 24 hours debating which of your family and friends was going to make your initial 'chosen six' from Monday's relaxation of the lockdown rules?
Hands up those of you who debated it with your other half, secretly hoping you didn't have to include a set of in-laws, that annoying hanger-on buddy, or the one who always needs to out-do everybody?
And hands up those of you who replayed the words of the Prime Minister's statement in your mind - desperately wondering which six people in the universe even care that much about you, your needs and your frail mental health?
The truth is, yesterday's announcement will have rested with all of us in very different ways. For some, it will bring huge comfort and relief. For others, it will be an uncomfortable acknowledgment or a catalyst for serious agonising.
Over the weeks of lockdown, having daily contact with those battling their own (and others') mental health issues, I've seen the emotions for our service users swing like a pendulum.
At times, I've listened patiently and with empathy at the tears and distress in the very midst of food shopping horrors; I've comforted those wading through an eating disorder relapse; sympathised at parents watching their child's weight melt away (again), and shared with mutual understanding about the desperate desire for a hug, a touch. or a simple arm around the shoulder.
But I've seen too, the pride in craft projects achieved in isolation, the joy in having no longer to experience the 'FOMO' effects of racing to be the same as everyone else in society, and a degree of unexpected unity in being able to join neighbours in a collaborative weekly celebration.
And yet now....? Now comes the new wave of anxiety and of introspection.
Last night I chatted to a service user who in the last 24 hours who has gone from proud elation at how she's coped with being alone during lockdown, to sheer fear that she'll be back in that world of comparison, competition, self anhilation...and the overwhelming sense that she doesn't even have the magic 6, with whom to share in the reunion ecstasy which she 'believes' others will all be enjoying.
This reminded me just how much we all live a world of believing we know what the lives of others are like, but equally, that, within every single one of those hubs of six, it's likely that AT LEAST one person is feeling less than content with their mental health or wellbeing.
I don't for one moment expect you all to start thinking about changing your 'list of six' to include the person who lives on their own, the forgotten Uncle who snubbed the family 25 years ago, the grumpy ex line manager who was last seen sitting in his office counting out your expenses for the third time - but maybe you could give thought to how this Special Six rule is playing out for someone you work with, know from school, share a smile with in the shop, or exchange occasional Christmas cards with.
We're all acutely aware that this pandemic will hugely impact mental health for so many, but as the lockdown begins to slowly release, let's start thinking about how we play our part.
Is that being 'more available'? Is it 'really listening' when someone says they're ok? Is it doing that Mental Health First Aider training, and then remembering to adopt what you've learned through really staying in tune with the vulnerabilities of others, or is it simply about being more authentic in how you talk about the world in which you and your family live?
I continue to be hugely proud of the work we're doing to help the mental health journey of those with eating disorders, and if you'd like to know more about Wednesday's Child, please email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
- May 2020