I am very lucky to volunteer and work for Springfield Mind, a local mental health charity that supports people in our community who are struggling with their wellbeing. In the last two years I have supported the charity often just by answering the phone to those who need and deserve support, yet despite a huge work load we are still only supporting 1% of our community – why is this?
Did you realise that there are 7 out of 10 people just like me the UK, who need and deserve help with their wellbeing but do not reach out? The evidence is clear. Our wellbeing deserves greater focus and attention. Stigma is the biggest barrier that sits at the top of the list. Whatever your political views we must credit the Royal family for becoming ambassadors for change. They are joined by a montage of celebrities who have been open about their experiences.
From my personal experience I feel that there is still a long way to go in combating ignorance and prejudice. When I disclose my illness, it can often feel like a massive neon sign projecting ‘danger steer clear!’. I am lucky enough to understand that people don’t mean to be cruel but often people make very strange and irrational judgements about you. The most unusual/humorous one was being issued with my very own set of plastic knife and fork at a dinner as I think the host thought I could not be trusted. I am able to laugh at this, but we need to educate ourselves about these issues.
On a positive note I know people once they take time for awareness and education can become great advocates, this has certainly happened in my family. The other great benefit is that when people increase their awareness of mental health and wellbeing, we know this has a positive impact on them, and makes them less likely to become the 7 out of 10.
Embracing new solutions must be the way forward. I have received nothing but exceptional care from the NHS, GP and Mental Health Services but these services are expensive and waiting times are long. Everyone will tell you the earlier that people get support, the more likely complete recovery and the less costly in terms of the support, the effect on those around us and often the quicker we return to work. I think this is the responsibility of our community to ensure we learn the importance and practices of wellbeing at the earliest age.
We also need to understand that if we are not leading meaningful, fulfilling and balanced lives we will often reach for unhelpful supports. I have a long shopping list of these to my name – they are embarrassing, and often cannot be packed neatly away. Daily, I meet people who cope with life through alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal) and comfort eating. I also am a great believer in that the emphasis we place on having lots of stuff be it a flashy car, a new kitchen, expensive holidays. These kind of things might give you a very short kick, but in the medium and long term it is meaningless in terms of how happy we are.
I am very passionate about the work Springfield Mind does. One of our services running peer support groups across Warwickshire. These are often weekly meetings where people like me meet up. The groups have three purposes in reducing social isolation, sharing experiences and supporting others towards recovery and a safety net that I know people genuinely care about one another and are keeping an eye on my mental wellbeing. The recent Mind study on Peer Support by the London School of Economics demonstrated that this type of support is often just as effective as anti-depressant medication.
Connecting with others in the community is vital, loneliness is hidden killer in the UK and we need to get out and socialise with others. We were built to be social animals and building caring genuine relationships with others builds confidence and self-esteem and creates supportive networks through life’s ups and downs.
I personally am a huge advocate of volunteering, for me it played a major role in my recovery from a serious mental illness. The act of giving to others is fantastic for our self-esteem and giving us purpose, for others it might be random acts of kindness and for some it is championing community projects. All of this helps us socialise, improve our esteem and meaningfully contribute to our community.
The Year of Wellbeing in Coventry and Warwickshire 2019 is a fantastic opportunity for us to highlight what fantastic support there is already in place in community and I think often the people who need the support the most are the ones who just do not know about it.
For me, regular self-care using a model like the five ways to wellbeing is going to make us healthier, improve our mood, build more meaningful communities and reduce the pressure on our NHS. The Year of Wellbeing in 2019 is a great opportunity for us all to make small but significant changes to improve our life and the life of others.
About the author
Paul Thompson, a champion for the Year of Wellbeing in Coventry and Warwickshire 2019. Following a mental health crisis in 2015. Paul commence on a recovery journey with positive support from Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust, Springfield Mind, Public Health and his mother and brother. Paul now works part time and volunteers for Springfield Mind.