ON THE FIRST Thursday in February each year, the UK charity Time to Change helps to challenge the stigma around mental distress and promote mental well-being by encouraging everyone to take ‘Time To Talk’ about mental health.
Everyone has mental health, just like physical health – whether we enjoy it or endure it, it’s good to talk to people we can trust. Mental distress can affect one in four of us, yet many of us are still fear talking about it.
This year’s Time to Talk Day is about bringing together the right ingredients to have a conversation about mental health. This Youtube video gives a beautifully simple example.
The text on-screen shows these ingredients:
- 3 little words: How are you? – Showing you care means a lot
- 1 dollop of patience – With mental health, there are good days and bad days
- 2 ears and 2 cups – Listening is important, especially over a cuppa
- 0 pressure – You don’t have to be an expert. It’s not about fixing, it’s just having a chat.
These are the main ingredients I have used for the past three years in my role as the chaplain at YMCA Liverpool, which provides high-quality accommodation for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the Liverpool City Region. The YMCA’s ethos is care for the whole person – Spirit, Mind and Body – and to help everyone find a balance between these three essential parts of ourselves that make us fully human and fully alive.
My primary aim is to offer hospitality – YMCA residents are in a home that is not of their choosing, and may spend a lot of time alone in their rooms or otherwise feeling isolated. By encouraging residents to come together for a hot drink, a snack and a chat about whatever is on their minds, I have built relationships, trust and confidence.
In the last three years I have used Time To Talk Day to focus conversations on the theme of mental health and well-being – sometimes people have also shared about how the stigma surrounding mental distress in the media and other parts of society has affected them. This year, as I considered how to plan my sessions for Time To Talk Day, I reflected on some of the conversations I have had during recent drop-in sessions at the YMCA hostels, and realised that every one has been a Time To Talk. The conversations included:
- A young mum feeling isolated and seeking to join a local faith community,
- A terminally ill dad seeking help to make sense of his thoughts and feelings about the precious time he has left with his family,
- A young man needing help to manage anxiety and medication due to lack of sleep due to physical pain,
- A young woman in crisis when a newspaper story reminded her of a past trauma that still troubles her.
And those are just the first four that come to mind.
One of the reasons I believe I’m a good listener for those who need to feel heard is that I’ve been there – I used to be so closed to talking about how I felt that, at times, I was fit to burst. At other times I was so open that I made myself vulnerable among people I couldn’t trust to keep my confidentiality. Now I’ve learned to find the balance between the two more often than not, and to help others do the same.
I’ve also learned that we are all more or less vulnerable at some time in our lives. The English word ‘vulnerable’ comes from the Latin word ‘vulnus’, meaning ‘wound’, a physical injury. So to be vulnerable literally means ‘able to be wounded’ (physically or emotionally) – It doesn’t mean we’re weak. We’re all in need of support sometimes – there is no shame in it, and remembering that can give me more compassion for others. Life is precious and fragile, and most of us would struggle, as many of the YMCA’s residents do at times, if we didn’t have family and friends to turn to at times of crisis.
So why wait for one day a year?
Let’s ask ourselves – what ingredients would I need to feel supported when I feel vulnerable? And, what can I do to create a healthy and safe-enough environment for others to feel supported too?