News - 30th May 2019

Mental Health: We are all on the same journey

Griffeen

After supporting the green ribbon campaign, to highlight the importance of speaking about mental health, Griffeen parkrunner Pat Newham put together his thoughts on how a community event like parkrun can benefit everyone, just by “being there”.

 

Recently, I joined with my fellow parkrunners in wearing a green ribbon in support of mental health awareness. Whether you are currently well or unwell, Griffeen parkrun stands with you.

 

In mental health there is no “them” and “us”. We are all on the same journey.

 

Just like physical health, we each spend our lives on a mental health spectrum that is a continuum between good health and ill health. Over time we move back and forth across that spectrum. If we are lucky we will stay within a range where we can manage our mental health difficulties within our own resources.

 

The human body and mind are tough and resilient and yet they are also very fragile. None of us know when a change in our life circumstances or the onset of illness may push us beyond the point where we can successfully manage without outside assistance. We may then need help from our family, friends and our community and, perhaps, the help of medical professionals.

 

Our role in helping a friend with mental health difficulties can be undervalued. None of us like awkward situations. We may tend to shy away from conversations that make us feel uncomfortable. In dealing with mental illness you may feel inadequate and that you do not have the personal skills or solutions that may help. But you don’t need to offer solutions. A friend in need may benefit from you simply listening to them. And we are all able to do that. If you are not sure what to say then just listen.

 

One of the main topics of conversation among parkrunners is our health. Usually this relates to our latest “war injuries” from running and progress on recovery from our old ones.

 

Conversations are littered with Latin terms for every muscle and tendon in our legs and feet. Advice is freely exchanged and sympathetic nods abound. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all felt we could talk as freely about our mental health problems?

 

We are in a society where in the past there has been a real stigma about mental illness. And the remnants of that stigma still remain. Stigma survives when it is supported by a significant portion of society. It seeks to impose shame on those with mental illness. But as a TV health programme says “there is no shame, we are all the same”.

 

Society is made up of you and of me and of everyone else in our community. None of us alone can change the attitudes of society but together we can with one conversation at a time. When a change in attitude in society reaches a tipping point then old stigmas cannot survive. I believe that we have passed that tipping point in regard to attitudes to mental illness. Those who will persist in clinging on to old prejudices will feel inhibited when they find that they no longer have support for their outdated attitudes.

 

Scientific studies have shown the beneficial effect on the mental health of participants in activities such as parkrun where people interact with each other. But I think that this is something we each know instinctively. We may not analyse it but we know that being at parkrun makes us feel good.

 

For me, the essence of parkrun is about “being there”. I believe that this is what bonds the community spirit in Griffeen parkrun and probably in parkruns everywhere. My reason for “being there” may be different to your reason. I believe that people are drawn back to participate in parkrun because they each have a positive reason for “being there”. Many of us will have reasons in common. But your reason may be unique. That doesn’t matter. parkrun is truly for everyone. And the mental health of our community is strengthened by parkrunners “being there” for each other.

 

The essence of how we should engage with our fellow humans and the concept of “being there” for someone else is summed up in the closing passage of the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Scout is being put to bed by her father and she says “when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things….Atticus, he was real nice….” ‘His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.’

 

Pat Newham
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