What is mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and beyond.
Taking cognisance of the above definition of mental health I thought as part of mental health awareness week I would share one of my experiences of mental health, the effect it had on my life and my family and how this experience of 40-50 years ago has impacted on me and how I think:
My father joined the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in 1930 as a 17 year old. He was posted to India in 1932 and pretty much spent the next 13 years there. In September 1939: On the outbreak of war the Battalion was in India and at Mhow. In November 1939: It moved up North Western Frontier to the Razmak. For three years they were engaged against the tribesmen in the Tochi Valley and in internal security. Then in October 1943: The Battalion joined 123rd Indian Infantry Brigade and took part in the Burma campaign including the Arakan and Imphal. During this time my father was involved in numerous engagements, saw and experienced the most horrendous and awful sides of humanity, was wounded and lived through some of the most vicious close quarter combat seen in any wartime engagement. He came home after the war and started a family and then struggled with his mental health for the next 40 years, until he died. We can talk openly about ptsd now but back then it was not recognised, nor discussed. My father was a war veteran, a man’s man and even though he had all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder including: flashbacks, nightmares, feeling very anxious and difficulty sleeping, he would not and could not get any help in dealing with it. He was ashamed to discuss this and the stigma attached to mental health wellbeing was such that he could not face talking to anyone about it. This affected his health, his wellbeing, his family, his work and all aspects of his life. His family didn’t speak much about it for the reasons I have posited but also because no one else spoke about mental health and if they did it was in the most negative of terms. It took me a long time to realise that it would have helped my father, my family and my community to have been able to talk and help. It took me a lifetime to realise that it was “okay not to be okay” and it took me a long time to realise that not all the things that need “fixing” are visible. I think back to the fact that my father was not the only veteran in our village, that other people in our community had also suffered traumatic events and how hard it must have been for them all to live “normally”!
This experience has stayed with me and helped shape me which is why I am so proud and driven by the team of people I work with at includem. We realised that: given the work we do and the challenges we engage with, our people and the people we work with would sometimes need help with their health and wellbeing. As such we had 10% of our workforce trained as mental Health Fist Aiders, which given what happened last March, has proven to be such a blessing. For everyone in our organisation this team provides a non-judgemental safe space to talk, which is not always easy, but is so vital. It also provides a support that is empathetic rather than sympathetic which for anyone who has experienced mental health wellbeing issues is so necessary. It has helped us take notice of ourselves and colleagues, connect to people within and outwith our organisation and perhaps more importantly it has kept us learning as an organisation, as a community, as a family and as individuals.
As an organisation that provides relationship-based support at its core, we understand for our families and communities that mental health and wellbeing is important. I wish my father had had the opportunity to get help. I wish the families in the community I grew up in had that opportunity and I hope that we afford that support to our friends, colleagues, families and community that they need, when they need it and for as long as they need it.
Finally, There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness but what is important is our response, our compassion, our understanding and love.