Our Expert By Experience, Rose Anne Evans talks about getting through the challenging times during 2020

This year more than ever, I struggled to find the right words. I’ve written many a blog on World Mental Health Day, but nothing I wrote seemed to even come close to the words I felt I needed to reflect upon what can only be described as an indescribable year. I found myself staring at the screen, silenced, and unsure where to take this blog. 

Many have dealt with illness, loss, anxiety, fear, whilst others have felt they have had more time, are less overwhelmed, and have appreciated their slower pace to life. In some respects, I have found the year challenging, having to adapt to a new routine of working from home, then leaving my job, dealing with loss and more recently, moving to a new country. But it hasn’t been without its positives. During lockdown I discovered wonderful new places to go walking and exploring. I became more appreciative of things that I used to take for granted: a meal out with my best friend, having a hug from my mum, and being able to sing in church.

Getting through challenging times

Some things that have helped me personally to get through the challenging times have been prayer; practising gratitude: making a list and saying thanks for the things I am grateful for every morning and evening; making and trying to stick to a routine: getting up at the same time every day has been particularly helpful; and chatting to my friends about the random everyday stuff as well as the difficult things. Maybe these things might be helpful for you? But I hope it also prompts you to think about any other little things you could do to look after your own mental wellbeing. 

I invite you to just take a moment now to think about what it is that would help you at the moment? Then take a moment to consider how you might achieve that. These little things we can do for ourselves won’t take the discomfort, sorrow or pain away, but they may just help to ground us, to at least, for one moment feel, a slight relief from the difficult feelings, and give us more strength and energy to deal with the challenges we are currently facing. 

Supporting a friend 

Maybe you’re also supporting a friend, and wondering what you can do to help them. Often on days dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, there is a big focus on what you can do to support someone going through a difficult time. I’m reminded of the friend struggling to come to terms with the loss of a loved one whilst trying so hard to fight their struggles with mental illness. I’m reminded of the friend who has lost their job and feels inadequate because there are just no jobs going at the moment. I could go on, but I think I have made my point. Times are tough for many people at the moment. When I think of these people, I go back to where I started this piece. Struggling to find the right words. Staring at the screen, not knowing how to respond. Do I give them a solution? Do I try to make them feel better? Sending cute dog pictures works in some moments, but for others, there just are no suitable words. Again, I find myself silenced by the situation. 

Silence isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes saying less means more. I have recently finished some training in Intentional Peer Support and during training, many people talked about times when they just needed their friends to agree and accept that what they were going through was rubbish (to put it lightly). They just wanted their friend to be by their side. To sit with them, but not necessarily feel the need to say anything. Their presence was enough. Perhaps ‘being by someone’s side’ is a more metaphorical concept at the moment. Maybe it involves sending a text just saying “I’m thinking of you”, or “sending you a hug this morning”. I have to say, I find this difficult. Every time, I find myself wanting to suggest solutions, things that the person could do. I suppose it seems strange to me that such a ‘small’ thing that takes only 2 or 3 minutes to do would make such a huge difference. But it does. I’ve heard people say multiple times that in the depths of their distress, that one person who acknowledged their pain made a huge difference. It takes time to change habits, but I’m slowly trying to be more aware of how I respond to my friends when they are struggling. I am trying to accept that I don’t always have to try to ’fix’ things, that being with and alongside them in their distress is often enough, and that sitting with my discomfort of silence might actually be of more comfort to a friend than trying to offer a solution to their situation. 

Let your voice be heard

In this final paragraph however, my invitation to be more comfortable in silence does not apply. I may have started this blog silenced by the events of the year, silenced by the struggles and challenges faced by those around me, but it is in this silence that I realise there is also a time for us to speak out and to make our voices heard. Due to the silencing stigma of mental illness when I began struggling, I didn’t speak up or talk about how I was feeling. This led me to feel more alone, to become more isolated, and to rely even more on unhelpful behaviours to help me to cope. Once a person does reach out for support, it can often take months, even years, for them to access the right support, and I believe this needs to change. 

This year’s World Mental Health Day is calling for a “massive scale-up in investment in mental health”, and is an “opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health”. I don’t think there is an easy or ‘perfect’ solution, but we have to start somewhere. The World Health Organization has outlined some of the steps they are taking, and ones they encourage us to take, to ensure that appropriate investment is being made. It might be that you can set up or join a campaign, it might be that you post or share something on social media. Now, more than ever, we need to continue to campaign against mental health stigma, and to also campaign to ensure that mental health care and support is accessible to everyone in an appropriate time frame. So this World Mental Health Day, let’s recognise the appropriate moment to talk, or even shout! Let’s take this opportunity to use our voices to make a difference, to show those struggling that we care, and to ensure that words are turned into action.

(link to WHO campaign: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020/world-mental-health-day-campaign)