Last Friday I attended an inspiring, thought provoking talk on mental health by Hugh Clarke, the Former Head of Counselling services at London Met and counselling Psychologist, as part of the CPD series of workshops run by the Southampton Learning and Teaching Institute at the Uni.
Hugh started the session by guiding us into a three minute mindfulness exercise. I’ll describe how I felt after the instructions below, in case you want to try it, I don’t want to influence you. Read all the steps first as after you close your eyes, you won’t be able to see the rest.
- Sit comfortably with your whole feet touching the floor and let your hands gently rest on your thighs.
- Close your eyes. What can you see? Now focus your attention on your breath. Then move to the sounds inside the room. What can you hear? What can you smell?
- Now focus on the sounds outside the room, what else can you hear?
- Now move back into the room and pay attention to your body. How do your hands feel on your legs?
- Now shift your attention to your internal body. What did you notice? Your heartbeat?Can you feel your blood flooding through your veins at every corner of your body?
- Now gently open your eyes.
How did that feel?
I felt relaxed, calm and fully concentrated, ready for the talk.
Hugh continued with a question, how we thought someone who is about to take their own life may feel.
My first thought was relief. Relief and calmness, as they can now put an end to their suffering. Others said a sense of control, as this is something they have control of. It made us all think.
He then played us a clip of Stevie Smith, reciting ‘Not waving but drowning’, the poem that inspired the title of his talk.
and then showed us a picture of the infamous Landscape with the Fall of Icarus painting.
Icarus, based on my beloved Greek Mythology, fulfilled his dream of flying with wings out of feathers and secured with bee wax his father Daedalus made. His father warned him not to fly near the sun, but he ignored him, so his wings started melting and Icarus tragically fell and drown into the sea.
Can you see him in the painting? Maybe not at first. Everything seems normal, everyone getting on with their day and Icarus actually looks like waving, but he is drowning.
And that’s what happens in every day life. Signs of struggling and mental illness are not obvious most of the time.
Hugh went through staggering statistics on student and general population mental health in the UK. Some of the ones I noted down:
-There are over 250 labels used to stigmatise people with mental illnesses. Unbelievably sad.
-27% of students reported they struggled with mental health issues.
-77% of students who reported they dealt with mental health issues were suffering from depression and 74% struggled with anxiety.
-The number of students and the severity of mental illnesses they struggle with it’s been increasing year after year, now at its highest.
-A survey of a major UK university revealed that 40% of their students were ‘detached solos’, students alone and isolated.
The stats for the UK general population are equally sad:
-There’s been a 43% increase of use of anti-depressants.
-75% of people who commit suicide have never asked for help.
-For men under 35, the most common cause of death is suicide.
What’s causing mental illnesses? That’s of course a complex question, is not just one thing, and it’s different for each individual.
But some of the main reasons (other than the immediate family environment and upbringing): society, local economics, fragmentation, helpless resentment, the ‘Buffoon effect’ (e.g. Donald Trump), social media (comparison with others which can reduce self-esteem), tyranny of perfectionism, tyranny of the ‘should’ (we all suffer from this to some degree!)
So how can we help each other?
Develop supportive climates through empathy, spontaneity and equality. Be compassionate and encouraging. The sense of belonging, feeling valued and self esteem are vital. And of course emotional intelligence.
At that point Hugh ran out of time as we bombarded him with questions but emotional intelligence, contrary to general intelligence, can be increased throughout our life. Self-awareness, your relationship with yourself and others, recognising and controlling your feelings can all improve with practice. And that can benefit one’s life in so many different ways, I need a whole post for that.
Hugh intended to finish his session the way he started it. Practising mindfulness.
A 3 minute mindfulness exercise has been scientifically proven, not surprisingly, to significantly reduce stress (which confuses us and doesn’t let us concentrate, it makes everything blurry) as it focuses our attention to ourselves, to the present and our nervous system comes back to a calm, neutral state and we can think more clearly.
What a brilliant talk. I’m sure if we had more time we would have been there for hours.
I hope you enjoyed this. I definitely enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.