To my continuing shame, it remains unusual for me to read anything longer than an average social media post; and so completing a 781-word article relating to World Mental Health Day is an achievement of which I’m actually rather proud.
The piece was written by Lucy Nichol, a gifted and insightful writer, and a fellow Trigger author (included as an unfounded implication of my own ability), and discussed the need to use mental health conversation to drive change – raising awareness is all well and good, but people still need access to services (the right support at the right time).
Lucy makes her point(s) as knowledgeably and eloquently as always, and I accept that the undeniable impact of funded/not-for-profit campaigns (such as Time to Change) are limited by an emboldened line that it would be politically unwise to cross. She argues that campaigners and supporters have greater ability to highlight and really push the need for whatever change is considered necessary – but this actually made me question whether my efforts are enough.
I have so much admiration for the more “high-profile” campaigners who have the energy, strength, determination – as well as credibility and whatever is the best word for “approval” or “reputation” – to take a personal cause and pursue it for the benefit of the unseen, unknown sufferers. Lucy cites Hope Virgo as an example, another fellow Trigger author (further reinforcing the unfounded implication…) and one of the bravest, most inspiring people I have ever met.
When you realise what Hope has faced, battled and (as far as is possible) overcome, you would think that it would be enough to simply share her story; but this young woman is prepared to go not just the extra mile, but the extra however many miles there are between John O’Groats and Landsend (on a bike) to help spread her particular message.
The magic number is 874 to save you looking it up…
I have spoken openly and honestly about a condition that is chronic, yet mild enough to be almost embarrassing in comparison; but all I have ever tried to do is encourage people to talk, and not to be afraid to ask for help. I suppose that rather naively infers that whatever “help” is required will be readily available and deliverable, but clearly that is not always the case. So maybe my “message” is flawed..? If services are not adequate, then surely I should be doing something more..?
My response … well, quite simply I don’t have the same level of knowledge, energy, determination et al as the Hope Virgos of this world. I do what I can to raise awareness whilst also trying to manage my condition; the symptoms that affect me (to whatever extent) every single day of my life – and have done for over forty years – and I’m just not sure I’m capable of “more”.
It took me so long to find the strength to visit my doctor and “ups and downs” and “bad days” notwithstanding, my outcome has been so positive. I was listened to … I wasn’t judged … I was helped … it took some time, and a bit of trial and error with the treatment, but I eventually reached a point where I felt able to share my experiences in the hope that they might prove the catalyst to a process that can eventually lead towards “recovery” (whilst recognising all conditions and recoveries are different).
Many years ago, as an average cricketer and equally average captain of Chester le Street 2nd XI, I tried to give the club’s developing youngsters the chance to perform in challenging match situations – finding ways to try and win, rather than a way not to lose; but recognising that if things didn’t work out, there was always a chance to learn for next time. One of those teenagers went on to play county cricket, and messaged me some years later to say that he always remembered how much he’d learned from me in those early days.
Remarkably kind words, but all I did was support him (and hopefully others) to improve to a point where someone with greater knowledge and experience would be able to guide them to the next level. And in a sense that’s how I view my efforts to raise mental health awareness. There are people far better-placed to help those most in need, and whilst there are undoubtedly service issues, the full extent of those issues will never be known unless people feel empowered to talk and ask for help in the first place.
If I’m playing a part, it is certainly a very small one; but whilst I may not feel able to raise my head very far above the proverbial parapet; I salute all those who can … and do - amazing people making a real difference.