On World Mental Health Day, when we are reminded of the importance of looking after our mental health, what can we all collectively do that’s helpful? My recommendation as a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and CEO of stem4 would be to recommend making some time to talk today. Talk the good old-fashioned way using words, face to face, expressing thoughts, emotions and intentions – being listened to and being heard. Our speedy modern communication through social media, text and email can’t surpassed what some people may see as a time consuming and sometimes painful process, especially if talking isn’t practiced or words are not your forte
Robert Frost in his poem ‘Time to Talk’ says
‘When a friend calls me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I hadn’t hoed,..’
Talking is probably one of the most under rated human abilities and the most often practiced one. Mothers talk to their babies from the time they are born (and even when they are in utero) initiating the process of bonding through creating a pathway through words to emotional connection. It is one of our oldest forms of love.
Talking helps to clarify your thoughts, to pay attention to things and to get a different perspective or to get a handle on what may be churning inside. It substantiates our experiences and memories. It helps you to connect to others and to sometimes release an internal pressure such as anger or sadness.
As William Blake in ‘A Poison Tree’ says
‘I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.‘
Talking forms the basis of psychological treatment and at a time when children and young people’s mental ill health is at an all time high, how do we encourage talk, particularly in boys and men?
The statistics on mental health problems indicate a heavier bias towards boys. In children aged 5-10 years, 5.10% boys present with mental health problems in comparison with girls and in children aged 11-15 years, 12.8% comprise of boys whilst 9.5% are girls (National Statistics online, 2004).
The types of difficulties boys present with include a higher rate of behavioural and developmental problems such as conduct disorders and autistic spectrum disorders and in the older group, a higher proportion of alcohol and drug misuse, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Statistics also indicate that suicide in more common in young men under the age of 35.
And yet, far less boys admit to experiencing emotional difficulties and attendance figures to G.P’s indicate that more girls and women seek help. In a ‘man-up’ culture, where expressing vulnerability is seen to be negative, encouraging boys and young men to admit to mental health difficulties remains a challenge. Education plays a huge role in enabling discussion, discouraging ‘banter’ and bringing about an attitude change. Promoting and supporting fathers to instigate discussion about concerns and worries is another.
In an age when self-harm predominates as way in which 1 in 12 children in the UK non verbally communicate their stress and distress, surely we need to provide them with verbal tools which will enable them to begin a process of change and healing? So let’s celebrate positive mental health today and spread the word – let’s make a special effort to talk.
Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist