Sunday, 14 August 2016

Caring for ourselves

In the last four posts I’ve been thinking about suffering and hope –  ways to listen better to the suffering of others, how sharing brings the beginning of hope, the need to be thoughtfully positive, and how to offering practical hopefulness.  

It does work.

Darren’s been coming to see me for a while now.  He is still alive. He still mostly rants, and I still mostly listen, but there’s less booze and fewer fights in his life. He’s got a girlfriend and a dog, and his drumming skills have found outlet in two local bands – one with a possible recording contract. We’re both beginning to feel more hopeful.   

To be able to offer hope to people in distress, we need to take good care of ourselves.
With the frequent pressures we find in our own lives, whether its hassles within our families or problems in work – or an awareness of our own frailty and mortality in the face of traumatic accident or life-threatening disease – when we find ourselves trudging through treacle, we do well to recognize our own suffering and give ourselves the freedom to hope.  
I’ve written before about how helpful it can be  to create a well-being recipe, where you write down a list of all the ingredients of life that help you flourish, and then use them to build up something positive when you’re feeling down or harassed.
It’s good to refresh the ingredients from time to time.  Ironing shirts is still on my list, but I’ve added in mindfulness meditation, and parkruns are now part of my own well-being recipe.
And it is great to have fresh starts, to try out new experiences we’ve never had before. And what could be fresher than meeting my brand new grandson Heath, born just a few days ago – welcome into the world! 
For Heath, and for everyone: in those times when life gets tough and you’re suffering, I can’t offer you better words of hope than these, from Irish poet John O’Donoghue:  

"On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you.

And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets in to you, may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green, and azure blue come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life."

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Practical hopefulness

So far I have been writing about the importance of compassion, and about the best ways of being positive.  Now it’s time to think about what practical steps we can take to help a person in distress become more hopeful about their life. 

Of course, a lot depends on how much knowledge and skill we possess. Doctors, psychologists and mental health nurses, for example, have access to drugs or therapeutic techniques, which aren’t available for others.  Faith leaders and counsellors have status and training that can often be of particular benefit.

But we can all offer important, practical help. 

Two well-tested things that anybody can offer are Mental Health First Aid, and Psychological First Aid.  And then, with a little training, there’s Problem Management Plus.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is helpful for anybody who is suffering from mental or emotional distress.  This graphic shows you the five main ingredients:

So, for Darren, I’m there to assist with his crises, like when he gets his sickness benefit turned down. I’m always willing to listen to his concerns and his worries. I give him information about courses and things he could do to improve his drumming skills. I offer him the choice of seeing the mental health team, and I encourage him to keep in touch with his friends even after they’ve had arguments.

If you want to find out more about MHFA, you can download a free app by clicking on this link. It takes your through the five steps and gives you lots of helpful suggestions.

Psychological First Aid  (PFA) is designed to help with communal suffering caused by disaster situations, such as the Ebola crisis in West Africa, or asylum seekers and refugees fleeing turmoil in Syria and Libya.  

As you can see from the next graphic, PFA has three key elements: Look, Listen and Link

It’s all about providing practical care and support and protecting people from further harm. It’s particularly useful for vulnerable groups, such as

·        Children and adolescents, especially those separated from their caregivers.

·        People with health conditions or physical and mental disabilities.

·         People at risk of discrimination or violence, such as women or people of certain ethnic groups.

PFA promotes people’s long-term recovery because it helps them to feel safe, connected to others, calm and hopeful. It offers social, physical and emotional support, so people are better able to help themselves, as individuals and communities.

 You can read more about PFA here, and watch a brief video about it here.


If you would like to be more actively involved, I suggest you learn about Problem Management Plus (PM+).  

PM+ has been developed by the World Health Organisation to help adults facing adversity.  It involves five weekly sessions and covering four main topics:

·        managing problems

·        managing stress

·        getting going and keeping doing

·        strengthening social support

It’s been shown to be effective in high, middle and low income countries. It’s similar to the Positive Thoughts Courses that Sue runs regularly.

And very importantly, it can be delivered by people with no mental health expertise, after a brief training.

If you want to find out more about PM+, click on this link. 
Next time: taking care of ourselves.