This Sunday 10th October – World Mental Health Day. The theme this year is ‘Mental health in an unequal world’, something the COVID pandemic has highlighted in so many ways within our own nations, and around the world. Global inequality economically, socially and otherwise continues to widen and for those facing ongoing considerable challenges mental health becomes even more vulnerable. From the founder of this day, the World Federation for Mental Health:

This theme, chosen for 2021, will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high income countries is not much better. Lack of investment in mental health disproportionate to the overall health budget contributes to the mental health treatment gap.  

Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ grows ever wider and there is continuing unmet need in the care of people with a mental health problem.

There are multiple resources available for this important day – from podcasts to activities – but if you would like a simple suggestion for supporting, why not take the opportunity to check in with someone you think might be struggling and open a conversation – or if you’re struggling yourself, reach out and talk to a friend, family member or someone you trust.

And speaking of reaching out for help, I did so this week with some very dear friends (thank you all). I found myself concussed following a gash to the head, rendering me pretty inactive. One of the very special souls who came to visit and support is the fabulous Flic. In fact, she is very kindly typing this week’s newsletter for me. I am fundamentally fine, so no need to worry – and heartwarmingly I’ve found unexpected blessings in the events of this last week, which is what I’ve asked Flic to share with you on my behalf.

Understandably, everyone has been concerned to hear about the concussion, which happened very much accidentally and unexpectedly! In the eyes of my friends, family and colleagues, it’s an unfortunate thing that has befallen me. But, bizarre as it may seem, I actually feel that this is the most positive thing to happen to me for quite some time. This is for one very simple reason: for the first time in a very long time, I truly have permission to rest. In fact it has been fully enforced since I am struggling to use devices at all. Of course, normally I meditate, and I sleep, and I do have leisure time – though that’s rarely uninfringed by work. And don’t get me wrong I am not advocating concussion for all (far from it, I have had it multiple times and it is a nasty thing) – and I wholly acknowledge it shouldn’t take a head injury to get me to stop.

But following this bump, it feels like my thoughts are like that glitter jar analogy that I’ve been fond of for so long. Previously, my head was swirling, with all the thoughts shaken up and moving around; sometimes feeling like flakes of glitter, and sometimes more like bomber planes, speeding and crashing around. And now, it’s as if those have all turned to autumn leaves, floated downwards and settled. There’s an unprecedented calmness, a sense of expanding perspective and a loss of identity that’s unexpectedly comforting. In pausing my activities – both because I am following directives for recovery, and because my brain is actually unable to maintain its usual pace – there’s also been a pause to the narratives of Sally the TV producer, Sally the ill person, Sally, Archie’s owner. And in this stillness there is a certain sort of bliss.

I was sharing this week with my friend Mark about this different type of rest when one is truly forced to fully stop. I mentioned to you previously about a book I have been reading that I would highly recommend, The Book of Rest. And how the first exercise was to simply sit or lie down and be. No meditation; no consciously doing anything. But just to be if only for 5 minutes. A blissful hour later I had not moved. Mark suggested to me that this was a form of ‘unconscious meditation’, perhaps the best meditation of all. And I wholly agreed. If we are able to simply stop, rest and be that is a true gift in life. Ideally without the bump to the head of course!

As a final thought on the matter of identity and how this can either support or entrap us, I want to leave you with this beautiful poem by Wendy Cope. Unable to watch TV this week, as I started to recover I listened to podcasts and poetry. And this was a piece that struck me deeply on many levels.

She was Eliza for a few weeks

when she was a baby –

Eliza Lily. Soon it changed to Lil.

Later she was Miss Steward in the baker’s shop

And then ‘my love’, ‘my darling’, Mother.

Widowed at thirty, she went back to work

As Mrs Hand. Her daughter grew up,

Married and gave birth.

Now she was Nanna. ‘Everybody

Calls me Nanna,’ she would say to visitors.

And so they did – friends, tradesmen, the doctor.

In the geriatric ward

They used the patients’ Christian names.

‘Lil,’ we said, ‘or Nanna,’

But it wasn’t in her file

And for those last bewildered weeks

She was Eliza once again.

I hope World Mental Health Day offers you some food for thought this week. And my wish for you all, until next time, is that if even only for an hour or two you have the opportunity to rest, and just be – and that you take it.