Last night I had the privilege of talking about mental health with a fantastic group of young people from my local air cadet squadron.
As their padre I wanted to encourage the cadets to think about St George and his dragon alongside the courage needed to fight our own dragons whatever form they may take. I have a number of friends and colleagues who have inspired me over the past few years with the courage they have shown in talking openly about their own battles with the dragons of mental illness.
We looked at how we can improve our mental health and that of those around us, be honest about it when we are unwell and how we can support friends who are struggling. This video got a powerful response. https://youtu.be/SE5Ip60_HJk.
There has been a lot of publicity recently around the Princes’ #headstogether campaign, tackling the stigma often attached to mental health (not least in churches I have to say where it can be especially hard to admit that things are not ok).
I was able to talk with the cadets about signs to look for and possible triggers for a deterioration in mental health, including exam pressure, bullying, moving to a new place and of course losing someone we love.
I know when Andy died in 2013, just three months after my dad, I fell to pieces. I was angry with a God who would let this happen to those I loved when I selfishly thought that I had given up so much for him. I didn’t want to go out or see people in the parish because I felt they would expect me to be able to deal with it. I had to take time off work and was offered a course of counselling which helped me begin to put the pieces back together again. I was especially thankful for very supportive and sympathetic bosses (my bishops!).
What we concluded last night was that the people around us make a huge difference to how we deal with our mental health, whether they are supportive, take us seriously and will listen sympathetically, or whether they feel awkward and make jokes about it to defuse their own discomfort.
I’m with the Princes (and the Duchess) on this. We really need to put our #headstogether to find more ways to improve the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of everyone in our communities.
As for me, I’m hoping that walking Hadrian’s Wall will have a positive impact in all four areas!