Why mental health is important – from someone who didn’t believe in it
With it being Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I would share my story on how it took a global pandemic for me to assess the state of my mental health, and do something about it. I’ve never really been one to talk about well being, so giving it a go in the hope that it helps at least one person to take their mental well being a little more seriously, writing it certainly helped me to do that.
So, let’s start this with an apology.
In the past, I’ve always been one of those people who very much thought that you should ‘just get on with it’, it was the way I was raised, and it was the natural sense that I had when anyone showed any kind of affliction or illness. For that I am sorry.
It has taken a global pandemic for me to realise something about mental health; your state of mind clearly affects not only your work, but your everyday life, and taking care of your mental health could not be more important.
A report in 2013 by the Chief Medical Officer found that the cost of mental health problems to the UK economy was estimated at around £70-100 Billion, which is 4.5% of the nations GDP. Let that staggering figure sink in for a while and then you realise the scope, and the part, that mental health plays in our lives.
From a mental health standpoint, I feel like I am healthier now, than I have ever been, which might sound odd in the face of Covid-19 but hear me out.
In the last 2 years, I have bought a house in London, got married, left my job of 9 years and moved to New York investing most of my remaining money into a big relocation. All of those things alone could cause an immense level of stress on a person, let alone cramming them all into a short space of time.
I was tired all the time, I drank too much, I had no desire to do anything at the weekends or in the evening, I was not a good person to be around. My wife will be the first to tell you how snappy I was and how the smallest things used to enrage me in a way that is just not a normal reaction from a person. I knew I was stressed, I knew I was not happy, I knew all of this, and I didn’t tell anyone about it.
According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people will be affected by mental health issues, most other people probably knew that I was one of these, but I did not accept or acknowledge it myself.
Then Corona Virus hit.
My wife and I had been in New York for 6 days, with all of our worldly possessions, and in that time, the city that never sleeps, was very much snoozing. Bars, restaurants, shops, theatres, attractions and even the morning coffee station at the hotel was shut.
We could not move into our new apartment, we were meant to be staying with family who understandably did not want people who had just travelled from Europe and been subject to enclosed crowds, with them, and this really felt like the last straw. After everything we had been through in the last two years, it was breaking point.
We decided that, for the good of the business, we would move back to the UK, and it was the best move we could have made. The sense of relief getting on the plane home, was like a warm blanket being pulled over me.
I am writing this now, sat looking out over the Devon countryside, and although it is raining, I realise how very lucky I am. I am still working, I am actually saving money, I am with my family, and for the first time in what seems like forever, I am relaxed mentally.
Lockdown restrictions have actually made life a lot simpler for me, and I know that there are a huge amount of people struggling with not working, being on furlough, worried about making ends meet, and what their jobs will look like when they return, if they even have a job. This is not an article about how I am doing so well, it’s about a complete sceptic accepting the role and importance that mental health plays.
I feel the pressure of work, no question about that, but I am not feeling the same level of stress that I previously had. I feel ready, I feel challenged to work, I wake up in the morning relishing the day ahead (after coffee obviously) and when the end of the working day comes, I am not clock watching to run out the door, I’m actually working longer hours, because I want to.
I appreciate that I need to take time for myself, whether that be with others, or spending time on my own. I’ve learned the value more of communicating openly with people, something driven by working remotely using the likes of Zoom and Teams as an integral part of life, and most importantly, I have learned that much like when you hurt your body physically, you need to take time, when your hurt yourself mentally, you need to take the same amount of time.
With this new, healthier, energised version of myself, I can see some of the positives in what everyone is experiencing at the moment. Doctors and Nurses are our heroes, not celebrities or athletes. We are eating better with home cooked meals rather than takeaways or eating out. Families are spending time together and there is a real sense of community that has not been seen for a very long time.
It’s rather fitting that this feeling falls on the same weekend that we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of V.E Day, another period of great hardship for the world, but one from which we came out the other side stronger, more determined, and more united than before.