Mental health is often in the news – and that is a good thing! We are beginning to understand that mental health is something that we all need in order to thrive, but some of us at some point in our lives will become unwell. For a few, a serious mental illness such as psychosis can be debilitating whilst, for many, depression and anxiety will challenge our ability to cope with daily life.
Depression and anxiety have become the modern day equivalents to back pain; what was once the most common occupational health problem. Modern day life is more mentally stressful than it is physically demanding. We live in a technological age that has, on the one hand, made our daily activities easier whilst on the other, it has created the conditions for increasing social isolation.
Technology should work for our benefit. It should allow us more time to spend with family & friends. To a point this is true, but then why is it that we are glued to our phones and tablets? At every opportunity we login to the digital world to see what’s happening with… friends. It appears that technology has increased the need to engage with technology, not time in the company of others. The irony has not passed us by. We shake our heads in dismay knowing that, through social media, we are better connected across a much broader, global community, and yet we have never been so disconnected from each other.
We are social beings, and even the most anti-social of us will acknowledge that being connected with the ‘real’ world we live in is fundamental to our wellbeing – and is key to thriving. Turning back the clock is unrealistic and will unravel what is good about technology and its advancements. Learning how to live and thrive with technology in our lives is where we need to focus. Turning the tide of influence away from that new gadget, social media platform or app, to how we connect with others – in the real world.
Talking about mental illness is actually helping this shift. We are beginning to understand that there is nothing to fear, that we are more alike than dissimilar, and that simple acts of kindness can be life saving. Not only is it helping to break down stigma by raising awareness, it is also helping to start conversations that are difficult to have – particularly if your emotional state or mental illness subsumes you so much that you become a prisoner within yourself.
Step 2 of the #HeyAreYouOK campaign teaches us that, if we can understand for ourselves how difficult it is to ask for help, then we know what it must be like for others. If we look up from our screens, reach out and ask one simple question: “Are you OK?” we can spark up a conversation, and it may be the catalyst for change. Some people may not want to chat, but the connection you have with them shows compassion – that you care enough to ask. That in itself is powerful.
If we are struggling with emotional distress or mental illness, simple acts of kindness can help us feel that we are no longer surviving we are thriving. We feel ‘connected’ with the real world around us, and valued by others, something that technology will never replace. There maybe tough times, but feeling connected is to feel supported. Who will you ask?