Grow Up, Or Don’t

When I was a kid, there were;

Purple skies and pink rivers,

Paper cranes and wooden toys.

The world was only as big as,

The candy shop around the corner.

The big blue ocean,

Fit itself into the sound of a seashell, 

And hide and seek was only a game. 

But today, I hide behind the solace of my words,

As the same big blue ocean threatens to sink me.

My skies and rivers are both blue, too. 

There are no cranes or toys. 

And my world hasn’t grown any bigger. 

It all fits into a tiny smartphone. 

I realise it’s all a hoax;

To grow up.

So today, maybe;

I didn’t walk around the puddle, 

I remembered to colour outside the lines, 

And all my little paper boats,

Slowly sailed back to me.

Journeys of Hope : Part 1 – An Open Letter

This is an open letter to all those who took a leap of courage and faith. Those who pried open their lips to push out words that asked for acceptance, help, and validity for all the feelings that they struggled to explain with simple words. This goes out to those who clutched onto hope thinking that they would receive kindness and empathy in return for the small step they took to force jagged syllables from behind their teeth. Those who then saw all that hope shatter when their words and feelings were dismissed, mocked, or shut down without so much as a thought their way. This goes out to all those who only wanted someone to understand but in the end, took to swallowing all that they wanted to say, because they knew there was no point in screaming out when no one would listen. 

 

I, too, was that person. 

 

Talking about feelings is difficult. Trying to talk about how you’re feeling when it comes to mental health issues is even more difficult. In a world where dialogue surrounding mental health is still considered a taboo in many countries and cultures, you risk harsh judgement and sometimes even shunning if you try talking about mental health issues. But what hurts the most is when you try speaking up about all that is bothering you to the ones you thought would understand and stand by you in solidarity, only for the same people to end up throwing your own words back at your face. 

 

About six years ago, I tried talking about issues that had been bothering me for quite a while, only for my own feelings to be used against me. I didn’t really know how to make sense of my feelings then, because I was a confused 16-year-old who had no inkling as to what mental health issues were – we were never even remotely taught anything related to mental health in school, were we? And so there I was, scouring the internet to try to make sense of my confusion and I was honestly scared. I thought something was wrong with me, that something physically might have gone wrong to cause all this. But most importantly, I thought that I was alone in feeling this because everyone I knew was normal, right? Then there definitely had to have been something that was wrong with just me. Because how else would you explain the crippling swooping felt inside my stomach that wrenched me and the waves of never-ending sadness that crashed over and over giving me no time to even breathe some days. How was I to explain any of this to anyone when I myself had no idea what was happening? Nothing had gone wrong, I hadn’t experienced events that could be considered traumatic. I had a supportive family, some good friends, and was doing well in school.  What was I to say, that I had suddenly incurred some sick twisted version of a manufacturing defect? Who would have even believed me when I didn’t believe in what I was feeling myself? 

 

It took some time and a lot of research for the confusion to give way to clarity bit by bit. Slowly, over the course of the next 3 years, after reading through a multitude of forums and discussion groups, I realised I was battling depression and anxiety. And it took a lot more searching to realise that I might not be alone in feeling this way: resources were not abundant nor visible, even a few years ago. I understood that I was not “broken” or “defective”, that nothing was “wrong” with me. It took some time for me to believe it but time was a good friend. However, to say that my struggles stopped there would be a blasphemic lie. The first few times I tried to talk about my issues, I ended up being branded “the sad kid”. To my friends, I became the person who complained too much, was always sad (because of course, being sad is a choice isn’t it?), never participated in anything, didn’t like going out, didn’t like laughing, didn’t like socialising, was always alone, was “emo”, was seeking attention. There was no use in talking to them about this was there?

 

So I shut up. 

 

I bottled up everything that I wanted to say. I instead wrote them down for myself, weaving poetry out of emotions that found no home, found no place in this world. And that wasn’t liked, either. But by then I had stopped caring about what others thought of me. I had neither the energy nor the willpower to try to make the unwilling understand. But I promised myself one thing, that I would do everything in my capability to make sure that another confused and scared 16 year old wouldn’t have to go through what I did, alone. I did get better with time but there were only very few people who managed to understand what I had gone through and offered genuine support. 

 

Today, I don’t shy away from talking about my journey with my mental health issues but the reactions are still mixed. Some are supportive, some still think I exaggerate but regardless, I am in a better place where I can look back at my own journey and talk about it in hopes that it might help someone, somewhere. Only if we start dialogue can we expect change. It still is uncomfortable for me sometimes and I don’t expect everyone to talk about it but what I do hope for is that you, reading this, understand how difficult it is to speak up in the first place. For you to understand what it means to truly listen, to not mock or shun those who reach out to you for help. The topic of romanticization of mental health has already been addressed quite a bit (The Romanticization of Mental Health) and it is important to not let your views be skewed based on what you see on social media platforms. No two people’s journey is the same. Do not impulsively throw out words that you might not truly mean. Opening up your “DMs” to talk is a big responsibility and one that is not to be taken lightly. If you do not know how to talk to someone who reaches out to you for help, educate yourself. Guide them to better resources. But never, ever invalidate someone’s feeling because you personally do not relate to them.

 

If you, reading this, happen to be the person I was, I am so very proud of you for continuing the fight against your mental health battles. Mental health is a journey filled with trials and tribulations, disappointments and hope, good and bad days, and what a journey it is indeed. But you still made it this far, you’re fighting the good fight and always remember that you are never alone. Your feelings are valid, your emotions are valid and I hope that when things get tough, you do not feel the need to hesitate before reaching out for help. 

 

I still struggle with my issues, I still feel uncomfortable talking about them, and I still get mixed reactions even from good friends. But I hope these words resonate with you somehow. Even if it ends up making just an infinitesimal difference, that is enough. That is all I hope for. 

 

If you would like someone to listen to your worries, in a judgement-free, safe and inclusive environment, take a look at our LP Buddy program 

 

If you would like to know what it takes to be a good ally, here are a few resources 

How to be a mental health ally

How to Support Someone With a Mental Illness

What does it mean to be an ally to someone with a mental illness?

4 Simple Ways You Can Be an Ally to the Mental Health Community

 

Mental Health in the Workplace

With the quarantine in full effect, Some of us have been working from our beds – the line between home and work completely blurred. Some others have a little too much family time and work has been their escape. And, for yet many more the pandemic has cost them their jobs and uncertainty looms like a guillotine over their lives. The undeniable fact remains that this lock-down is a little crazy and completely chaotic, and working from home has only added fuel to the fire.

The conversation surrounding mental health has never been more important, and while more and more people are talking about it, one space that it is rarely discussed is work. The internal separation between our ‘professional’ work-selves and our home-selves makes the topic of mental health issues taboo at the workplace. The need for this dialogue is also scarcely driven by employees. Changing this corporate culture must be driven by every worker. Spreading awareness and building support for demanding these benefits is a vital starting point. Encouraging more open conversations about mental health between colleagues and peers can lead to a more robust employee-driven implementation of policies. Finally, focusing on continuous improvement and adapting to change is key to support a workforce that deals with rapidly changing ways of working. Regardless of the myriad occupations that each of us hold, we can focus on these common spokes to turn the wheel of change. 

While some companies have started recognizing this and provide benefits catering towards employee mental-health such as free therapy and paid time-off, this is far from being the norm. Corporations exploit this diffidence to enhance their profit margins. However, businesses may actually profit from providing mental health services as part of their benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that the cost in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is nearly US$ 1 Trillion. 

The pandemic and resulting work-from-home paradigm has brought forth a new challenge to the mental well-being of the digital workforce. While traditionally, most companies viewed working from home with suspicion, the current state of the world has brought enlightening new facts to dispel this doubt. Microsoft was among the first companies to enforce work-from-home for its employees. It has also been proactive in studying the results of this ‘experiment’. Some of the highlights (or sobering facts, to be accurate) from this study are, 

  • Employees were spending 10% more time in meetings when working remotely.
  • Instant Messaging usually slows down by 25% during lunchtime. However, when working from home, it dipped by a mere 10%.
  • Instant Messaging usage soared by 52% during 6pm and midnight.

The World Economic Forum recommends these 10 tips to boost your mental health when working from home. Here are some of the key points.

  • Set up a dedicated workspace, which should be as free from distractions as possible.
  • Develop a schedule, which includes phases of focused work as well as breaks.
  • Try to establish simple routines which don’t require any self-control, such as a coffee break or starting your working day with an easy routine task.
  • Set up dedicated times for work and leisure – and stick to these times.
  • If possible, work in a different room than the one you spend your leisure time in. Particularly avoid working in your bedroom as it may remind you of work related issues, preventing detachment when you go to sleep.
  • Engage in absorbing activities, which capture your full attention after work. Good examples include exercise, cooking, mindfulness meditation, or focused playing with your children or pets.

Due to the advances of technology and to the delight of managers, the feeling that an employee is available at any time when working from home has become the norm. Mental health has taken a back seat. Zoom burnout and loneliness (especially in the case of the younger workforce) are frequent complaints. In a 2010 experiment conducted by Nick Bloom, a British Economics professor at Stanford University, for a Chinese travel agency Ctrip, one half of a 250 employee-group, were told to work from home while the other half worked in the office. To the surprise of the agency, the productivity of the Home group went up by 13% and the company could save nearly $2000 annually per employee from this arrangement. But the experiment also measured happiness and ‘feelings of loneliness’ were the main reason for employee dissatisfaction. 

A majority of people spend one third of their adult life at work. Even if the social value of dispelling stigma surrounding mental health at the workplace isn’t enough, there is also a clear economic motive. The same study that estimated the cost of lost productivity due to employee mental health issues also provides hope. As a positive incentive for companies to take up the cause of mental health in the workplace, the research estimates that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Here are the key takeaways from the steps recommended by the World Economic Forum to build a mentally healthy workplace,

  1. Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
  2. Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  3. Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
  4. Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
  5. Figure out where to go if you or your employees need professional help for their mental health concerns.

Most of these measures can be implemented whether the employees are at office or working from home. The most important step is to ‘Start taking action NOW.’ Employees have found innovative ways to stay connected with colleagues, who for many, double as best friends and form an important part of their social network. It is time for businesses to open a more humane side of operations and recognize that whether their employees are working from home or at the office, their mental health is as much of a tangible factor in their success as any profit margin.

LonePack Conversations- The Power of Friendship and Support Systems ft. Dr. Vinod Kumar

Friendship is something you never outgrow. No matter how old you are or what you’re going through, healthy and close friendships encourage positive mental health and well-being. They celebrate with you through the good times in life and are there for you through the bad. In times such as now, it has become more important for us to be there for each other and check up on our loved ones.

 

https://soundcloud.com/lonepack-conversations/the-power-of-friendship-and-support-systems-ft-dr-vinod-kumar

 


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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

Today we have with us Dr. Vinod Kumar, Psychiatrist and Head of Mpower – The Centre. He has trained extensively in the UK and has qualifications and skills in various psycho-therapeutic modalities. He has also acquired qualifications in psycho-dynamic psycho-therapy, interpersonal psycho-therapy and cognitive behavioral psycho-therapy. He has endeavored to develop a truly holistic approach to mental health issues and works with a particular emphasis on psycho-dynamic psychiatry, wherein apart from the biological issues, emphasis is laid on the individual personality and the way that interacts with the illness. 

Welcome, Dr. Vinod!

Dr. Vinod– Welcome. Thank you for such a wonderful and warm welcome introduction.

Valerie- Thank you for being here with us today.

Dr. Vinod- You’re welcome.

Valerie- So, in the recent past, the importance of mental health awareness and the need to be sensitive to people around us has become an integral topic of discussion. How do we create an environment to make sure that people feel comfortable opening up to us?

Dr. Vinod- So, there are quite a few general factors and also some specific tips I can give with regards to this. If you think about it, amongst your own network, say- you have a group of friends in your class or in your school, or certain family members- some of us are endowed with that sort of warm and empathetic personality so people kind of gravitate towards us in the sense that some of us are natural agony aunts in the way we are built and structured in our personality. Having said that, we can all endeavour to become better agony aunts. 

We use some specific techniques. Say, if we are talking about our family and friends only, and we’re talking about people we have to live and interact with on a daily basis, we know their nature- how non-judgemental they are, how secretive or sensitive they are to personal information, how not to share it and so on. We already have a pre-conception so we will automatically choose whom we open upto or not. If we keep that in the background, that individual people have different abilities to be good listeners and agony aunts, if you think about specifics, we do this program called ‘The Youth Mental Health First-Aid’. I don’t know if you’ve come across that but that’s an Australian training program which we use primarily to equip people who work with younger people to be good mental health first-aiders. So, as a part of that program, there is this mnemonic that we use which is called ALGEE. That is used very commonly in all spheres. So, ‘A’ stands for ‘Assess for the risk of suicide or harm’, ‘L’ stands for the ability to develop ‘Listening non-judgementally’- we all have a tendency to be judgemental at times and being aware of the fact that any judgements from our side or being judgy in any way is going to put off the other person from opening up to us fully-, then ‘G’ stands for to ‘Give reassurance and information that is appropriate and adequate’ and I’ll expand on that in a second, ‘E’ stands for ‘Encourage appropriate professional help’ and the second ‘E’ stands for ‘Encourage self-help and other support strategies’. 

So, this kind of gives you a framework of what works. So, some basic practical tips- you sense that somebody in your family or in your network of friends is struggling emotionally. How are you going to approach them? It’s very important to choose the timing of your opening gambit to them, the situation- you don’t do it on a dinner table, you know what I mean? If you’ve got five or six people, typically in a family, sitting over dinner, and then you sense that your younger sister or brother is struggling emotionally, you don’t bring it up then like “What’s going on with you? I’ve been noticing that you’ve been awfully quiet”. Automatically, the situation will generate a response which would make them close in again “No no, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”. Also, without knowing, non-verbally, we have tendencies to talk down to people, right? So very simple things- like when you approach somebody, you make sure you are at the same eye level as they are. If they are sitting, you don’t go and stand tall on them and say “I have been noticing you’re not yourself”. That is threatening. So, you take a very non-threatening, very humble stance, right? So say, if you’re dealing with a younger person, you make sure that if they are sitting, you go sit down next to them, where your eye levels are horizontal rather than you looking at them from top. You become aware of any non-verbal gestures which will be threatening. 

You pick a time and a space which is appropriate for somebody to open up about their inner issues. It sounds like common sense but most of us don’t do it appropriately enough because what happens is that it usually comes out in a context where some argument is ensued and then you want to explore what is wrong with this young person or this other person, right? So, be aware of that. For that, you need to be sensitive, you have to be aware of your own body language which you portray. Generally, think about the timing of the intervention and the situation of the intervention. Have ‘AGLEE’ as a mnemonic at the back of your mind. So then you would basically take a stance where you are in the exploratory mode, which is very hard for most of us. We tend to take on the Captain Detective mode- “What is wrong with you? I’ve been noticing…” If the enquiry is very loaded with judgements, then it’s not likely to lead to any opening. 

So, the questions should always be from an open-ended structure to close-ended.  I’ll give you an example, suppose I’m talking to you and you are like my family member and I say “Hey, are you depressed?”, that’s obviously a very close-ended question. Instead, if the question was framed bearing in mind that you are sitting at the same eye-level and in a non-threatening posture and so on, and you say “How have you been feeling in yourself in the last few weeks?”, do you see the difference? The answer to the question should not end up becoming “Yes, I am depressed” or “No, I’m not depressed”, you understand? So, it’s an open-ended question where you say “Yeah, I’ve been feeling alright but you know what? I don’t feel that great”. So, you’re giving that space to the person. Your questioning should be what we call ‘conical shaped, which is you go from an open-ended question and if they don’t take the bait, then you can ask more closed questions- “But you know what? I’ve been noticing you’re not as participatory in the family events…” or whatever, right? So, you can bring in some data and then try and open them up. So, don’t act like a lawyer “Have you done it or not?”. That’s a basic thing. 

Always be courteous and be okay with the person not wanting to open up at that point in time. That’s basic common sense again but see, you planned it carefully that you’re going to go and do this exploration or intervention and offer supportive nature and if the other person is not ready for it, then you give them that opening that okay, you understand that they don’t feel like talking right now but whenever they feel upto it, they can approach you. Leave the doors open that way, yeah? Nothing you do should come across with any kind of force or anything which is threatening like “You better talk to me”. You know what I mean? That should not be the attitude. So, it’s that very gentle open invitation at an appropriate time and an appropriate situation, I would say.

 

Valerie- I like that you said we need to respect their space and we need to seem sensitive to them so that it gives them a kind of comfort when it comes to the fact that they can open upto us whenever they feel like it, and also the importance of non-verbal gestures. 

So now, supposing we do all of this and somebody does open up to us, or in the recent past, we’ve had a lot of people put up on their social handles messages saying “My messages are always open to you so reach out to me whenever you feel like it” but we need to educate ourselves on how we react when people actually do reach out to us. So, what are a few things we should keep in mind when people reach out? 

Dr. Vinod- So, I think the first thing is to be very very acutely aware of not being judgy. That’s very off-putting. Just put yourself in the other person’s shoes- they’re trying to share something difficult and before you’ve exhausted what you want to say, somebody has already made up their mind on what’s wrong with you and they’ve got a piece of advice, whatever that might be. That’s very off-putting. That’s very much against the ethos of good listening, you know what I mean? So, you need to give them that space again and whatever it might be, you listen first, and you listen with intent and you listen with that sort of one-pointed focus, as much as possible. Let them come to a natural closure to what they want to share before you make comments. I think in between, you could give cues like “Mhmm”, “No, I understand”, “Tell me more”, that sort of a thing, just to get the process going or keep it going but nothing you do should come across as judgy, at least in the initial phases of the conversation. That’s one.

Secondly, depending on the situation, you should also give a very clear message that whatever the other person is now going to share with you is going to stay here. One of the barriers for people sharing difficult things with other people is that there’s a sense of not feeling secure, that the other person will share it with the other and so on. So, if you make a statement that to that fact, in simple words, that “I understand that this is difficult for you but let me reassure you that whatever we talk about now stays here” and that you’re not going to judge and you’re just here to give that space and time to that person so that they can open up about their mental anguish. So, it’s those things, whether they’re done very concretely and verbally, or through your non-verbal attitude and gesture, it’s a combination that leads to success, isn’t it?

 

Valerie- Yeah. Okay, now you’ve also spoken about how one needs to be in the right mindset to offer mental health support because a lot of us might think that the true definition of friendship is being there for someone no matter what. While it’s something that we can admire, it also comes at the cost of our own mental health at times. We might be going through something, we might not be in the place to offer support to somebody else. So, how do we be a good friend to someone going through a difficult time while not neglecting our own needs?

Dr. Vinod- I think that goes without saying, isn’t it? That you can be of positive help when you have the ability and the resources and the space within yourself. If you are struggling yourself, it’s better to deal with that first, right? It’s a bit like what they say, it’s a very cliched thing which people use but when you’re given instructions in a flight before the flight takes off that “The oxygen mask will fall and we want you to take care of yourself before you can help others.” So, that’s a given because without that, you’re not just going to make matters worse for yourself, but also for the other person.

 

Valerie- Right but so often you feel like you’re not doing enough for somebody, especially when you tell them you’re “always there” and then when they do come to you but you’re not in the right space of mind, you just can’t offer help. It doesn’t really seem right to you as well, feeling like you’re not doing justice to them coming and talking to you.

Dr. Vinod- You know when one says that “I’m always there for you when you need me”, that always has a condition that I’m there for you when I’m okay to be there for you, correct? It goes without saying, I think. There’s no substitute for honesty. Suppose somebody does choose or decide to open up to you, and like we said, the situation and the time is very important and that goes both ways, doesn’t it? When they are ready to connect with you and if you are not, there is no substitute for just being very honest and say “Right now, I’m not in the right space of mind. I will come back to you on it”. There might be a little to and fro but there is no substitute for honesty.

 

Valerie- Right, okay. So, while peer support is critical, it can’t replace professional help, right? But a lot of people are reluctant or outright unwilling to seek professional help. You don’t want to admit that something is wrong with you and you don’t want to go to a professional about it. Why do you think this is the case and how can we encourage people to seek professional help? 

Dr. Vinod- There are so many barriers. The first one obviously being the sense of stigma around seeking any kind of mental health help, which has come about culturally, historically, due to various ways in which mental health issues and mental health professionals have been portrayed in the media and in the wider culture as well. There are a lot of negative connotations attached like “Main pagal thodi hu” (“I’m not crazy”), that kind of attitude. So, it’s very very difficult to break that and I think, in all cultures, I’ll tell you it’s not just India. In all cultures, there is a stigma attached to it but obviously, it varies with how evolved a culture is in this aspect. anyway. So what are the ways around it? Clearly, education, education ,education. The more people know about what it entails, what kinds of issues can be helped, right? 

For instance, what we’re trying to do today, it’s part of that isn’t it? So, when more and more people become more and more aware that it’s okay to share with somebody who is trained and is professional with this. It’s kind of like people can cut their own hair at home but if you go to a professional hairstylist, obviously the outcome is better. Maybe it’s not a very good example but it just came to my mind. So, there is a difference in that.So, the biggest barrier is myths and misconceptions that people hold about professionals that when you kind of lose it is the only time you go and seek help or when there’s no other option. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s point one. 

So, there’s a very interesting position people take on this. Their whole sense of identity and pride is linked to being mentally sound and stable and safe. Owning that you’re not, is a big jolt to your ego and your identity and it’s all very unfounded. I think it’s completely nonsense, you know? I mean I have had so many clients over the years who come to me like “Doctor, tell me, I’m not insane, am I?” You know what I mean? It’s that sort of black and white thinking about this issue which has come. It’s very immature. I don’t know how it’s come and why it’s come. 

Due to multiple factors, I suppose but you wouldn’t worry so much about seeking help from a gastroenterologist if you’ve got stomach issues. There is something fundamentally wrong with us thinking our entire identity is linked to our mind and our thinking. It’s like saying that “I am my sweat and my skin”. It’s just not true. It’s a part of you. Your brain and your thoughts and your feelings are a part of you but that’s not entirely you. So who are you? They’re a part of you but in my opinion, you are your awareness and your consciousness. 

Now, if that becomes aware that there is burning when you’re passing urine, you would go see a urologist or a general surgeon to get the right help for it. When that awareness becomes aware that the brain, the thoughts and the feelings are not as healthy as they can be or they should be, then why not seek appropriate help for that? What’s the problem? But it’s amazing, it’s something which is a problem we’re all trying to unravel and break through and I think things are changing and what happens is popular role models and popular culture helps break these barriers as well. 

For instance, when Ms. Deepika Padukone or a filmstar comes out and says “I have suffered with depression and I have sought professional help and it’s really sorted me out” and so on, that helps. I think that helps break some of the barriers because these celebrities do have a lot of influence on our thinking and I think, very importantly, what is portrayed in movies and in popular media, that shapes and defines our thinking and our attitude towards such things. For years, filmmakers have tried to use mental health issues as a substrate for humour, and that does not help matters. In fact, the Royal  College of Psychiatrists has got an entire team looking at how mental health issues are portrayed in films and popular media and they do some very proactive work on trying to change that. Those are the things we all need to be wary of and challenge.

 

Valerie- I also feel like the culture we’ve been brought up in, we’ve been taught that you shouldn’t be crying. That it’s not a good thing for you to even show emotion and eventually when you keep hearing that, again and again, you become numb to even showing emotion to anybody. So, even if you don’t feel okay, you’re putting up a brave face, right? You need to really trust somebody to be able to actually talk about your issues and it becomes even more difficult, even though you know that you will be talking to a professional, you’re still talking to a stranger that you don’t trust and that you don’t know, so if somebody opens up to us as a friend that they really trust, how do we then tell them that “This isn’t a problem I can solve and it’s not something that will just go away so it’s better for you to seek professional help”. How do you say that without making it sound dismissive?

Dr. Vinod- Yeah. So, I think using a similar strategy as I just did. Using analogies of a stomach ache or other physical ailments. You have a set of experiences which are unrelenting, continuous. You feel sad, you’re not sleeping well, you’re not concentrating well, or you feel very panicky and stressed out all day and all that. Now, this has been going on for days and weeks. When the same thing is happening in your stomach and you’re having continuous diarrhoea, for instance, would you not see a professional to sort it out? So why is this different? So, it’s that kind of an approach, I would say. 

But also, I see your point that without sounding judgemental… So don’t jump the gun about asking people to seek professional help. I think, exhaust the obvious ones. A lot of healing and therapeutic effects happen in good listening, right? Then encouraging problem solving in that person “Okay so now what are you going to do about it?” or “How are you going to handle it from here on? Let’s think about that together”. So maintain good sleep hygiene, get some exercise everyday, focus on the here and now, break down problems into solvable chunks and build it up, don’t look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. Whatever your abilities are, when you exhaust all that and the problem persists and you’ve had more than one or two sessions, that’s when you probably bring in the possibility of them seeking professional help. So, it’s again timing and that judgement should come depending on the person’s openness and so on. 

What is very very different is, say your best friend, she can share everything with you about her issues with her boyfriend or her mother and so on but when it comes to really deep dark secrets, right? People will hold off opening up about those things to the most loved ones as well because there is a fundamental problem here in your relationship which is that you are there as a part of their life. They have to interact with you, deal with you on a regular basis. So this is where the professional counselling bit comes in because here, clearly any counsellor or therapist of any worth should have very clear boundaries between professional work and their personal lives. So, I will not try and socialize with my clients as far as possible so I’m not a part of their life in that sense so they can open up about everything. Again, I come with years of training, a non-judgemental attitude, experience of dealing and working with difficult emotional issues so that also gives the professionals a bit of an advantage, you know?

It’s very different talking to a friend or a family member compared to talking to a good, well-trained professional therapist of any kind because it’s a safe space to begin with. A hundred percent safe. That much guarantee a therapist has to give, that “Whatever happens between these four walls stays here and if you don’t want me to share anything with anybody then that’s that. I’m not going to judge you. There’s nothing I haven’t heard before”. And so on. I think the classic example would be that you can do first-aid but when the person needs a bit more than first-aid, you’d obviously take them to a professional doctor, won’t you?

Valerie- I like that you talked about the importance of active listening and then gradually bringing up the conversation of seeking help so that we are there for them but then they also know that it’s important to seek professional help and get the help that you need because you can only provide so much.

Dr. Vinod- Yeah.

 

Valerie- So, the pandemic that we’re all going through and the lockdown has definitely taken a toll on all of us, be it mentally, emotionally or physically. We are no longer as aware of how people in our circles are doing as we once were. So, how do we take care of ourselves while also checking in on our friends? This would also maybe extend to when the lockdown ends but a lot of us still have long distance friends where we don’t see them on a regular basis, we don’t know what they’re going through. How do we check up on them?

 

Dr. Vinod- So, it’s very difficult. If you are used to somebody every other day and so on, that is obviously going to get diluted now but in my experience, I believe that the kind of perceived sense of support is way more important than actual support. Do you see what I mean? So, if you have a group of friends, say you’ve got like twenty friends, and they will be pretty demonstrative and they’re always there, supporting you. That’s very nice. But if you have fewer friends and you know that they are solid and that they’re going to be there if you need them, that perception, that sense in one’s mind is very helpful. So, it doesn’t have to be physically demonstrated and physical presence, you know? 

It’s the quality rather than quantity, if you ask me, of that support you can offer to a loved one or a friend or a family member and that’s very important. So never forget that quality is way more important than quantity and that different circumstances in our lifetimes will warrant different levels of quantifiable contact and support, correct? The current situation is like that and we do what we can and obviously, with the access to technology and the amount of virtual meetings that’s happening, we do what’s possible. But I think it’s always the quality that matters. Somebody can be in your face all day long but they are of no use to you emotionally, you know what I mean? But then one person you may connect with once a year but the quality of that relationship is so beautiful that you value that a lot more if you were asked to list out people who you would depend on if your life depended on it, you know? You would name them. So, there’s no substitute for that. 

 

Valerie- Well, Dr. Vinod, thank you so much for talking to us. There was so much that I got to learn from you, especially when it came to how to make somebody feel comfortable even when you’re not speaking to them or how to be sensitive and respect somebody’s space. Active listening was an important thing that I learnt from you today, to make sure that you’re there for somebody and they know that they’re heard.

Dr. Vinod- And remember there’s no substitute for genuine empathy. Genuine empathy. I didn’t emphasize enough. 

Valerie- That’s right, yeah.

Dr. Vinod- Anyway, it was great. I mean, there’s a lot to say so we’ve tried to cover a lot today but if I can be of any further help any time, please feel free to connect.

Valerie- Thank you so much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silent Crisis

TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SUICIDE

 

There is no right way to begin talking about something like this. And that is exactly why it should be talked about; because conversations surrounding mental health issues are uncomfortable, need vulnerability and most importantly take a damning amount of courage. 

You see, the fight against the stigmas surrounding mental health dialogue and creating awareness about mental health issues is an everyday push-and-pull. India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There are days when the world seems receptive to conversations, seems accepting of mental health issues, but some days just go on to show just how much of an uphill battle it actually is. LonePack was started with the very purpose to fight to start getting people to talk about mental health and to normalise mental health issues and their treatment. But it is absolutely gutting to see so much insensitivity and dismissal that still shadows mental health. It makes you think just what does one need to do to tell the world that they need help? And this is essentially what it is – this is the heartbreaking yet sobering reality that millions who are battling their own demons face every single day. 

If you scream out for help with everything you have but no one listens, you forget how to speak with time. 

It is high time everyone joins the battle against de-stigmatising mental health. It is not a taboo, it is a crisis. And it is time that the world starts recognising that. 

To bring to attention a few things that need visibility, especially now.

 

  • Be extremely careful of the words you use. It is very easy to throw words out there that in reality can deeply affect and trigger someone who is battling mental health issues. Be very sensitive to the content you share on social media. Be mindful of your language and educate yourself on the proper way to address those who reach out to you for help or talk to you about their mental health. Here are a few resources that you can refer to

Ten Commandments for How to Talk About Mental Health

Mental illnesses: Terms to use. Terms to avoid.

  • Do not misuse hashtags on social media. The aim as a collective is to bring attention to the issues surrounding open dialogue on mental health. It is not to be taken lightly and not to be used as an exploitative tool for any sort of personal of professional gain. 
  • Talking is definitely  a great first step but if you wish to open yourself up as a listener to those who need it, do keep in mind the accountability and responsibility that come with it. It is not to be taken lightly. You have to provide a non-judgemental, safe and inclusive environment for people to talk to while taking care of your own mental health. Here is a document that outlines some of the do’s and don’ts of being a listener https://lonepack.org/blog/index.php/2020/06/15/talking-to-someone-who-is-suicidal/. Again, let it be known that it is not an easy task. Instead, gently guide them to professional help and resources.
  • Please, please be kind. Battling mental health issues is not easy in any sense. Mental health is often romanticized as being quirky, moody, or anti-social and its portrayal in media is only now slowly changing. It is not pretty, it is not cute, it is not an adjective in any sense. It is raw, it is messy, it is uncomfortable, and it is wrenching. Be kind to those around you. 
  • The road to recovery is long and winding. Be patient. Anyone who has battled or is battling mental health issues can attest to the fact that recovery is not simple, it is not easy and it is not linear nor definitive. It is not a switch that you can flip and consider yourself to be “cured”. It is an everyday battle and every single, small step taken towards getting better counts.  Please be patient and understanding. 
  • Reach out. Mental health issues are silent. Those who are battling them might not feel ready or comfortable or safe to talk about it. The stigma surrounding mental health issues has made it incredibly difficult for those who battle mental health issues to come out and talk about them. And most often than not, they are driven to believe that they are alone in their battles. It is important to let them know that they aren’t and offer unyielding support. Reach out and check in on people with kindness and gentleness. 
  • Educate. Both yourself and those around you. Use your platform, no matter how small, to spread awareness by sharing proper established sources of correct information. This is one of the most important things to do if change is to be brought. Here are a few resources to check out.

Mental disorders

Health Topics

 

It feels unreal when someone who battles mental health issues gives up on it. That is someone’s friend, sibling, parent, partner, colleague but most importantly a genuine human being. Life is not to be taken lightly. Empathy and understanding is often dismissed when addressing issues such as this in the press and on social media. It is sickening to see the way a person’s life is turned into a mockery of sense in the wake of their death. And it has to stop. They are more than their achievements, they are more than what we see. There are so many who need help and are unable to have access to it. It is up to us to become allies and fight against the stigma. Fight for changes at the grassroots levels. Fight to normalise mental health issues and its treatments. If not now, then when will change happen? How many more lives do we have to lose to see change? Do your bit in helping. Here are a few ways you can be a strong ally

  • An audiovisual representation of what does it mean to be an ally 

How to be a mental health ally

NAMI Infographic – Helping Others Along the Road

To reiterate, mental health right now is not a taboo but a crisis. We need change and we need it right now. 

Talking to someone who is suicidal

Talking about suicide is never easy. 

While you might want to help, it is important to first ensure that you are comfortable talking about it; if you’re not, it is bound to reflect in the conversation. If talking about suicide makes you feel uneasy, then it’s a good time for you to reflect and ask yourself why. Is the fear of saying the “wrong thing” stopping you? Then hopefully this document can serve as a comprehensive starting point. Beyond this, it is also suggested to read testimonials of survivors, to truly understand what it means to feel suicidal.

What pushes someone over the edge?

The thought of suicide is a consequence of feeling like there is no other option – that there is no other way out other than ending one’s life. It may sometimes come from a place of loneliness, a place of punishment, guilt and even pain.

Know that talking about suicidal thoughts rather than keeping it inside is a positive sign, because it means that the person is reaching out for help. They are reaching out for someone who can understand their pain. And reaching out always means that there is hope.

Hence when someone mentions that they feel suicidal, do not go into panic mode. Although it is completely natural for us to have this “default reaction”, understand that staying calm will help you think more clearly and to be actively present. If we equip ourselves with proper awareness and knowledge to deal with the situation, then we can trust ourselves to be better at providing support. Remember, all we need to do is to be there for the person on the other side. Because, that is all THEY need. But what does “being there” mean? It means to actively, whole-heartedly and truthfully pay attention to the person and to take them seriously.

Let us remember that contrary to the popular notion that talking about suicide can increase its risk, if the topic is addressed in a sensitive manner, it can encourage an individual to share their experiences and feelings.

Here are some myths and facts about suicide –

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-worried-about-someone-else/myths-about-suicide/

 

Assessing the level of risk

Assess the immediacy of acting on a suicidal thought. Does the person have a weapon nearby and can they end their life immediately (extreme risk)? Or are they calm and just talking about their suicidal thoughts as a way to share and reflect (mild risk)?

In the case of the former, understand that this extreme risk is driven by an intense feeling that “everything is too much to handle”. So try to lower the intensity of this feeling. Some de-escalation phrases are discussed below (re: Pt. 8 of “What should you say”). Engage the person in conversation, even if it is about the suicidal thought itself (given they want to speak about it; refer pt. 4 of “What should you say” below). Just keep the conversation going. And, when appropriate, calmly insert a suicide helpline.

In the latter case of mild risk, while the person shares these thoughts, please refrain from trying to “solve” or “fix” the problems causing those thoughts or an immediate attempt to “lighten” the mood. These efforts, although well-intentioned, may stagnate conversation. Pay attention to what the person needs through actively listening to them.

What does it mean to actively listen? It involves:

  • Not trying to talk the person out of their thoughts or feelings.
  • Not professing to understand a story that is not yet known.
  • Not offering superficial reassurance.
  • Not problem-solving.
  • Not giving advice.

In some situations, it is helpful to plan a buffer – a “safety plan”, in case the person contemplates attempting suicide again. This is essentially a plan of action which consists of identifying one’s triggers (for increased awareness) and devising a set of internal and external coping strategies that can be used when needed. This plan enables them to have more control of the situation.

Please read more into this so that you can learn and maybe coordinate making such a plan with the person. 

Here are some links to read up more on what a “Safety Plan” is:

https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/safety-plans/

http://suicidesafetyplan.com/uploads/SAFETY_PLAN_form_8.21.12.pdf

https://www.nasmhpd.org/sites/default/files/SAMHSA%20SPI%20SMI%20PPT%20final_2.pdf

 

Safety plan template : https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/SafetyPlan.pdf 

What should you not say?

These are not meant to be a strict set of rules but rather guidelines that should be kept in mind while conversing with a person who is at risk.

 

  • “Suicide is selfish/Think about what your family and friends will go through” – This just adds on to the guilt that the person is feeling because they already think they’re a burden. And in their distressed condition, they may feel that they would be freeing their friends/ family of this burden. How to use empathy here? Understand that it is normal for anyone in excruciating pain to just want to escape. Haven’t we all experienced being in pain and just wanting it to go away? Think about those times and try to grasp the pain the person is going through.

 

  • “Suicide is cowardly”– This statement does nothing but add shame. It does not help the situation but instead can make the person feel judged and cornered.

 

  • “You don’t mean that. You don’t really want to die.” – Often out of panic, we might say this to the person, but it can be really dismissive and invalidating of the person’s experience. At ANY circumstance, it’s always better to believe someone is suicidal rather than dismiss it, because even if there is a morsel of truth to it, taking the person seriously can avoid the danger.

 

  • “You have so much to live for”– Although in some cases, this might convey a sense of hope, it is important to remember that the top reason someone resorts to suicide is because they DON’T think they have anything to live for. In such cases, this can communicate a lack of understanding of their feelings and situation.

 

  • “Things could be worse”– Yes, things can be worse but pain cannot be compared. Pain is a SUBJECTIVE experience. Someone’s whole world can be crashing even if they are relatively “well-off’.

 

  • “Other people have problems worse than you and they don’t want to die”– True, but don’t you think the person has already considered this? Compared themselves and felt more shame and guilt that they couldn’t handle it while others could? In fact, this can make them feel like they’re broken or defective. Reality will then just seem like a sick joke.

 

  • “Your problems can be solved/Your problems are temporary”– Although some problems may be temporary, there also exists problems that can be long lasting and all we can do is learn to cope with them in a better way. This statement just shows a blatant assumption which again may push the person further away, making them feel like you don’t understand their situation.

 

Here’s a link to read more – https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/ten-things-not-to-say-to-a-suicidal-person/

If you feel you have already said something referring to those listed above, don’t panic. It’s okay. Just go back to the person and convey that you did not respond helpfully and apologise for it. Let them know that you want to understand better and that you will henceforth try your best to be a better listening ear, an ally, a buddy who will be there for them.

What should you say?

Please do not take this as a “script” to be followed word-by-word but try to grab the essence of what needs to be said. Also try to refrain from over-using the phrase “I understand” and instead use statements/ phrases that SHOW you understand. Ask yourself, “What can I say right now that will show the person that I understand what/how they feel and that I care about them?” The following statements are some examples for the same.

 

  • “I appreciate that you told me about your suicidal thoughts. This must’ve been so hard for you”– Acknowledge and appreciate the person for opening up. This will reinforce them to talk about it more and to also reach out more in the future.

 

  • “I’m sorry for all the pain and hurt that you are feeling. It must be eating you up inside to feel this way” – Use empathetic statements that show you understand how tiresome and burdening it can be to continue living with suicidal thoughts.

 

  • “I know you feel scared, but I’m right here and we can talk about this” – Reassure the person that you’re here with them- real time. That you will be there to virtually “hold their hand” through the whole process.

 

  • “If you’re comfortable talking about this, would you like to tell me what makes you want to die?” – Sometimes, talking about what makes one feel suicidal can serve to vent the frustration, increase engagement and help understand one’s triggers. Also keep in mind to use phrases such as “Are you okay with this?”, “Can we do this?”, “Are you comfortable with this?” to ensure that you are not pushing the person too much.

 

  • “What can I do to help/ make you feel safe?”– It is always better to ASK someone about their needs first, instead of assuming. If they reply with a “I don’t know”, reassure them that it’s okay and you both can figure this out together.

 

  • “It takes a lot of strength to decide to wake up and fight these painful thoughts everyday”– Acknowledge how difficult it is for someone who is suicidal to DECIDE (by using this word, you reinforce that they have a choice, that they can choose to live and work towards a better life) to continue living despite the difficulties they face.

 

  • “Sometimes we can feel trapped by our thoughts- like there’s no way out. But you are not your thoughts. It can seem hard but don’t let them limit you from reaching out and seeking more options” – Again, try reinforcing the idea that there are still options out there.

 

  • Some de-escalation phrases when they are threatening an attempt on chat- “I’m right here, although not physically, I’m listening and I’m here for you. We can take this one step at a time”. Ask them if they have anything that will cause them harm near them. If they respond with a yes, gently ask them if they can trust you and if they can listen to a small request. *Note: Emphasize on words/ phrases such as “small step”, “tiny request”, “just this one thing” because this makes what you ask sound achievable and is met with little resistance* Wait for their response and then ask them to put the instrument far away in a drawer or even under the mattress. Then gently try to calm them (if they are feeling overwhelmed) through grounding. 

Grounding is a technique that can be used to calm someone by increasing awareness of their senses – what they see, hear, smell and feel. This is also a great way to keep them engaged in conversation and to distract from the immediacy of a suicidal thought.

Once relatively de-escalated, you can ask them to lie down, drink some water or to eat something (mindfully pay attention to whether this is what they need) because the intensity of the emotions can make them feel tired and light-headed.

For more info on grounding and related exercises-

https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2015/08/20/tips-to-calm-anxiety

 

  • Follow up: Persistence is the key here. Dropping a message or giving them a call, can go a long way in reaching out to the individual. Even if you don’t talk on a regular basis, let the person know that you are there for them.

Highly recommend reading this article- https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2013/06/06/how-would-you-listen-to-a-person-on-the-roof/

If you’d like to read the original sources/ inspiration of the above article, kindly look at these links

What Would You Say to the Person on the Roof? A Suicide Prevention Text- https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1521/suli.31.2.129.21509

How Would You Listen to the Person on the Roof? A Response to H. Omer and A. Elitzur- 

https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/suli.31.2.140.21518

Hopefully, this helps you feel a bit more confident about responding to mentions of suicide! Please reach out at engage@lonepack.org if you’d like to share some feedback on this or if you’d like to suggest improvements!

Quarantine, social distancing, and friendships with Lydia Denworth

It’s been a few days since we stepped out, a few weeks since we’ve had proper face-to-face interaction with fellow neighbours, colleagues, and friends. In the current outbreak times, people around reflect on a lot of things—from opinions and decisions to as simple as what to eat for the next meal. And, there are some of them, wanting to have peer network and connectivity. Where are we headed towards?


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Aishwarya: Welcome to LonePack Conversations with Aishwarya. We hope you’re all safe and healthy. Let me introduce the guest for today’s episode—Lydia Denworth.

Lydia is a science journalist and a contributing editor at Scientific American. She’s also authored a book titled “Friendship.”  She’s here to point out the effectiveness of empathy, friendships, and mindfulness in the quarantine times.

Lydia: Hi! It’s great to be here. 

Aishwarya: Okay, so, let’s state the obvious.

People are locked down, they are perturbed and they are still figuring out how to stay safe and make sense of the quarantine mayhem. How are things changing around, and how do you deal with this new anxiety?

Lydia: It really is an unprecedented time but people have gotten through incredible hardships in the past and so, I am looking to the science of resilience and what it can tell us. The uncertainty in all of this is the hardest part. But, I think if we focus on the short term and what we can do each day instead of fixating on how long this is going to go on and what’s gonna happen because of it, we can keep ourselves calmer. In resilience science, what they talk about is trying to keep an optimistic point of view and to do some cognitive retraining. When you start to have to recognize your catastrophic thoughts or anxiety, challenge it and think of some positives, things like that.

Aishwarya: That’s nice. I like this concept of resilience science, and as you said, taking one day at a time one of the activities for each day and negating those anxiety thoughts with positive thoughts is really gonna help. So, thanks for sharing that Lydia.

Social distancing, this is a catch phrase of late. Now, does social distancing alienate your friendships?

L: No! It does not have to be at all. In fact, this is a critical time for friendship. Because what friendship is really about is being there for each other in times of crisis. That is one of the fundamental traits of friendship. It is about helping us weather the stresses of day to day life and this is nothing if not stressful. So, I think it is important to think of this as physical distancing and not social distancing because it is entirely possible to be social from a distance. And, to check in on your friends, think of your friends. In fact, if anything, what’s striking is, how much this time is reinforcing the importance, or making us recognize just how critical social bonds are for our day to day life. We take them for granted most of the time and now that we can’t, is what you will miss most.

Aishwarya: Certainly that is very true, because social bonds were there and it was considered a part of our everyday activity. As you said, we really did not understand the importance of a bond or a relationship or rather just having a casual chat with our friends. But now most of us are wanting a peer to peer interaction, wanting to meet people. It is nice to see that all of us are taking that extra step and finding different ways through which we can stay connected at times like this. 

Lydia: That’s right! I am loving the creativity that people are bringing to this. We are really embracing digital technology. It has good sides and bad sides. We would really be happy to see each other in person when that is possible again but the fact we have so many ways to connect through technology from a distance is really getting people through this. I mean, I am having Zoom video conferencing, Zoom meetings with my friends in a way that I only ever did for work before and I know I am far from the only person that’s true for.

Aishwarya: Yeah, totally! And people are exploring a lot of methods; and talking about that,

Would you like to state some more about the creative methods that people undertook for connecting with each other? Something that you say and you were like “Wow, that’s really good. I would love to share that with others.”

 

Lydia: I just mentioned video conferencing. That’s the obvious. Because then you can at least see faces and you can have a little more of a natural conversation. In fact, some of my friends who live further away and who I only ever see sporadically, we’re finding that now we say “Why didn’t we do this before?” 

But also, people are also taking a walk on FaceTime together and talking about it on their phone or having a regular check in on a WhatsApp thread. Those things are much more active than before, and I don’t think they have to have long conversations. Just check in regularly—it is an opportunity to call a friend who you haven’t talked to in a long time, and say, “In this time I am thinking about the people who matter to me.” Just to use good old fashioned telephones… or even write a letter—old-school. *Laughs* Nowadays, that feels creative right? That feels a little bit unusual. 

Aishwarya: For sure! 

Lydia: And I love the more talented among us are putting online concerts with everybody, all the instruments and singers performing separately at their homes and then the whole thing being put together online. Those kinds of things have made me very happy when I come across those.

Aishwarya: Interesting! FaceTime and concerts taking place online, tapping on video calls, audio calls and what not…

I think all of these are reinforcing the fact of being there for each other. And as you rightly said, showing the care to the ones that we really care about and letting them know that you are not alone in this journey and we are all here together and will face this together

Lydia: Yes Indeed!

Aishwarya:

So, you say friendships are important for one’s immune system. I was a little intrigued by that fact. How are these two related?

Lydia: Yes, this is so interesting. One of the major stories that I tell in my book is how scientists have come to understand the importance of friendship on the one hand and social isolation and loneliness on the other on our health. So, friendship is as important as diet and exercise for health and there is a long list of things that social connection affects. The immune system is one but there is also the cardiovascular system, your cognitive health, your mental health, your stress responses. Even the rate at which your cells age is affected by how socially connected you are. 

But, Importantly, let’s talk about the immune system specifically since that is your question and that is so relevant to what’s going on today. When we are under stress Cortisol is released in our bodies, We think of it as a stress response hormone. Those rates increase, Increases in Cortisol can inhibit the immune response in your body and what they have found is that with friendship on the one hand or loneliness on the other is that the loneliest people are more susceptible to inflammation and they are more susceptible to viruses. And people who are more socially connected are more resilient. It has to do with the way your genes are expressed in your immune system. I wont get into the nitty-gritty of it but it is a clear response that we have, so that your immune system is strengthened by having a lot of friendships and social connections in your life.

Aishwarya: That’s so nice to know. The whole concept of how your hormonal changes are associated with digestion or with the friendships that you have. So far we know that when we are mentally affected, it’s going to take a toll on your health. So, with regard to friendship I guess it’s a new theory and nice to know that it has a genetic impact.

Lydia: Right! What I think is so important about this is that it is not so hard to understand that the food you eat has an effect on your body because you put it in your body, or when you go for a run, your heart gets going from the exercise. So, you can see the connection to your health. But for friendships and relationships that exist entirely outside the body, it was more of a leap to understand that that actually does get under your skin and into your cells and changes the way your body responds to experiences, but it does. And so this is a really critical thing and it is a piece of why even if you have to socially distance you still have to connect. It’s going to help you get through this not just psychologically but physiologically. You would be healthier at the end of this experience because of it.

Aishwarya: Makes sense! And all of these are coming together rightly at this point in time—when we definitely need to reach out to people to show care to them or accept love and more kindness from them. So, it’s come together in the best time possible, and I’m sure listeners today would have learned the importance and can map their thoughts around this. 

Lydia: Right.

A: Moving on to the most simplest question yet very complex.

How do we stay healthy both mentally and physically now that you’ve spoken about how mental and physical health together play an important role at a time like this.

Lydia: At a time like this, I said at the beginning that uncertainty is the hardest part and we have to take it day by day. What I think is really important and the experts I have been speaking to, I have been interviewing a lot of mental health practitioners right now about this moment in time and they are saying that it is critical that you establish a routine and take care of yourself. You really focus on maintaining your sleep, getting your exercise and eating well and things like that. Beyond that, we talked about resilience and trying to train your brain. You can use mindfulness and things like that to help you. You can do it in a formal way where you have seated positions and actively engage in mindfulness meditation or you can do it in a simpler more informal way, even when you are washing the dishes or brushing your teeth or taking a minute to focus exactly on what you are doing. It helps people to sort of stop and breathe and put the stresses of what’s going on in the world outside of their mind. 

The other thing I think is really important is what my family and the people I am isolated with during this time, what we are doing is, we are declaring a little piece of each day COVID-19 free, whether that is three hours, one hour or five hours or whatever you can do. But it means that you talk about it, you don’t read the news, you focus on something else. Finally, there are a few positive psychology tips you can use to stay sane and healthy. They are things like finding three good things in the world. Some of the friends in my WhatsApp thread that I am in, they are doing things like, somebody declares today, “Take a picture of Spring where you are” or next day “Take a picture of your pet” or you are looking for good things to share like those concerts we were talking about where people are performing and then share it with your friends or with the world and say, “Here’s one good thing that I found today that made me think about something other than Coronavirus.”

Aishwarya: Yeah! Fair enough. It takes me back to the initial point that we discussed—break your day into multiple parts and have little patterns for yourself, with respect to sleep or exercise or eating. I loved your point on finding three good things in the world; and try to stay away from panic and pandemic news for a while, and need some peaceful time for your family members.

Lydia: I think that is going to be critical and trying to find moments of gratitude, things to be grateful for each day even if they are small things and your good things, and your gratitude moments would be the same or different. Just stopping and breathing and being optimistic. The world has come through massive world wars and pandemics before, never a pandemic like this but what’s interesting here is this is a combination. It doesn’t have any exact examples in history. So, you have to take pieces of what we have used to get through. But, always, always, always, that has been our friends and social networks and that is true now as it ever has been.

Aishwarya: Absolutely! The current time that we are in is a combination of too many attacks and staying sane is definitely going to be a hard task but I am sure with the couple of things that we discussed now, at least it would ease it for people a bit. And I have wondered at the fact that little things like gratitude and showing love and showing kindness and spreading positive vibes take utmost importance right now and these are certain things that we tend to miss out in our day to day lives easily when we were busy with our work, very busy moving around, shuttling around and now, all of these things seem to come into picture very clearly. So, it is wonderful to see how humanity works!

Lydia: That’s very true!

Aishwarya: How do you see the next few weeks panning out? Also, We were talking about the power of social media.

How do we view social media in a way that is very specific to spreading positive vibes and not really worried about the pandemic and the negativity that is being spread about, not reading the rumors and false information?

Lydia: First of all, the big problem is that none of us knows exactly how the next few weeks will pan out and that is part of what is causing our anxiety, is that uncertainty. But, one of the stories that I am reporting at the moment is about how pandemics end and how they pan out. The truth is that they do end. So, we can know that, we just don’t know how long it will take. 

To stay positive and especially through social media, the same things are true that we have been talking about with the way you view social media and the way you read the news. You need to be intentional and deliberate in your approach. You need to bring a critical mind to the things you read. One of the problems with social media these days is that there is fake news there and stuff that is not proven yet. The pace of the news is so fast that I have seen a lot of stories that rocket around the Internet about aspects of the coronavirus that then turn out not to be true. So, people’s response to something upsetting is to be a little skeptical—wait till you see it a few times, don’t freak out right from the start. Right now, the Internet is a source of amazing examples of resilience and the best side of the human spirit. So, look for those. Be intentional about finding the good things and just stopping and appreciating them. I’ve said it a couple of times now—Each day I stop and watch one of the concerts that have been put together—the Stgrano symphony orchestra, and the other one…They did a version of the “Rite of Spring” and it just made me so happy. It’s a minute to stop and without social media I couldn’t find those things. Try to focus on what is good in the same way that we set a routine for yourself in your daily life, maybe you read the news at a certain time of the day and the rest of the day you leave that alone. And use social media just to converse with your friends and look for structure and just don’t scroll through the news feed endlessly and picking up on anything that is making you feel panicky is not going to help.

Aishwarya: Summing up what you discussed, the first step is to condition our thoughts, to decide what is really the need of the hour and what is not required and when you go through social media, apply that pattern, apply that condition and just take in only that information that is relevant for you and leave out the rest. So, don’t fall prey to these cautionary and negative and false information on social media.

Lydia: Let me just add that it’s important to have news sources you trust, and pay attention to the source of the information that you are looking at. Does it come from a newspaper that you know? Is it a reputable publication or not?. And if you can’t find this source, then you can discount it somewhat. If it’s true and important, it will bubble up in bigger ways, in places you trust. That’s another way to limit and be intentional in what you absorb and what you ignore.

Aishwarya: Fair enough! If you’ve been following somebody, I think by now you would know if it’s something that matters to you, if it’s true and if it’s coming from a good source that you can take in. 

Thank you so much, Lydia! At this critical time, I am sure that LonePack Conversations listeners have thoughtful takeaways from you and realizing the power of togetherness and friendship is sure to help all of us stay connected despite the current physical separation. Thank you so much once again for being part of this episode and letting people see a lot of positivity from you

Lydia: Thank you for having me! I’m glad to do it.

The road to Self-Love

The road to accepting your own self is a long and tedious one for everyone. But for those who wake up every morning to continue their battle against mental health issues, the road can look endless. But that is the essence of it, there is no end to this journey. We learn how to become better versions of ourselves with every passing day and every day we learn a bit more of ourselves in this process. There will be times when you could feel the worst in your own body and mind but you can be so much stronger as you slowly overcome that. There will be days when nothing seems right and you would want to give up working towards self-growth and in those days, find strength in others and their words. Do not let one day hinder you. If you feel tired and weak, rest but do not quit. Self-love is easier to preach but so much more difficult to embrace. Social media portrays everything as flowery sunshine and rainbows wrapped under a neat bow-tie whereas reality is far true from that. Do not compare your own progress to others and also remember that your self-love can be much different from someone else’s’. To you, accepting your own brain and its twists and turns and learning to embrace it can be your self-love and to someone else waking up a bit earlier to develop a new habit can be self-love. There is absolutely no limit to what self-love is and the various forms it can take. I refer to it as an abstract entity because it is one, it isn’t a tangible goal that you achieve but rather a process, a habit you develop. In the meantime, while you think about what self-love means to you and develop them, try a few different things to see what works for you. Speaking a few words of encouragement to your own self every morning can be a good place to start. Only if you believe in yourself can you truly begin the process of growth and self-care and love. The first step is the scariest but once done, you will start to run in no time. Remember there is no true definition of self-love, it can be whatever you want it to be and is ever-changing. Here’s all the luck in the world to your path to discovering what self-love looks like to you!. 

Peace and PTSD

Trigger warning: Mentions of death and trauma.

Peace.

Such a deceptive word. Such an abstract concept. Such an elusive feeling.

But the guardians of peace, they’re as real and tangible as you and I. The Armed Forces lead lives that most of us cannot and they do so willingly, without an ounce of doubt or hesitation. And their mental health issues are as real and tangible as ours. 

Those of us who lead relatively safe and peaceful lives do not appreciate the Army enough. Most troopers go unacknowledged and unnoticed despite their valiant attempts to safeguard our lives, and needless to say, once they retire, they do not get the right emotional support as they rightfully should.

‘Service Before Self’ is the motto of the Indian Army, and while it is very honourable, one has to wonder if it is a healthy idea. The ugly truth is that 11% to 20% of veterans suffer from mental illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, stemming from their experiences in war.  

Not many of us are familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and so don’t recognize the symptoms that are right in front of our eyes. As the name suggests, a person develops PTSD due to trauma suffered in the past.  In veterans, the trauma may be caused by killing someone, watching someone die, or even due to the sheer number of threats they face every day. It can be anything that is shocking and/or impactful enough for the person to feel disturbed by it. In fact, some veterans even see the intense training they go through as traumatic.

PTSD manifests itself in several ways.  Some common symptoms are insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety and panic attacks, which will eventually lead to the person falling into a depression.

Army veterans are more commonly susceptible to PTSD in the form of insomnia and depression. Ever heard of soldiers unable to sleep due to recurring violent dreams? Chances are high that they are suffering from insomnia.  Ever felt seen a veteran insisting on always being armed, scouting out all the exits in a place, and jumping at even the tiniest sounds? That could very well be anxiety and restlessness. All of which are indicators of PTSD.

So the question is, how do we deal with PTSD? Well, this is a very harmful mental health issue and needs to be treated immediately by qualified medical professionals. However, here are some quick tips that might help in the meantime:

 

  • Go Outdoors: It is an old saying that there is no medicine quite like fresh air, and let me tell you, our elders knew what they were talking about. People suffering from PTSD quite commonly feel suffocated or claustrophobic, and pursuing outdoor activities like swimming and jogging can help in clearing your head, and will also help in improving your physical health. 

 

  • Develop Trust:  Lack of trust and hopelessness accompany any and all forms of depression, and people suffering from PTSD, in particular, experience restlessness and anxiety because of loss of trust in people around them. So the solution is to trust that you are safe. Trust in the future. And most importantly, trust in yourself.
  • Get Support: There is nothing wrong in asking for help. Confiding your worries in at least one person and getting support from them will prove to be extremely helpful. There are so many loved ones waiting to support and encourage you. The only thing you need to do is ask.
  • Ground Yourself: When you feel a panic attack coming on, or when you feel depression weighing down on you, try to calm yourself down through small distractions. You can try humming your favourite song, or counting to 1000, or even reciting the alphabets backwards. If you are in a quiet place, you can also practice meditation or pranayama. They not only help in regulating your body functions but also prove effective in stopping your attacks. 

We often think of army men and women as being these infallible heroes. And while they deserve to be celebrated as such, one has to remember that they are as much flesh-and-blood as any living being, and hence frequently fall prey to illnesses.

Because denial is the first barrier to treating PTSD; it’s not only the people around who are in denial but oftentimes the people themselves deny that there is anything wrong with them. This is especially true of veterans, who easily dismiss the symptoms of PTSD and other disorders because they feel that they do not have the liberty to show weaknesses. 

What they don’t realise is that our weaknesses are what make us human.

Team LonePack salutes all soldiers and veterans, and wishes them a very happy National Army Day!

Thank you for your service.

 

Exploring Media and Mental Health

The world can seem to be really cruel sometimes. Nothing might go your way and the things and circumstances that we experience might make us believe that nothing good will ever cross our paths again. Discussing openly about the demons that we fight takes a lot of courage and vulnerability and it is a hard thing to do. However, sharing the pain would ultimately sought to only do more good to us. Awareness about various mental health issues is also a need of the hour and a key aspect of exploring mental health issues and its reach is through media. There is absolutely no doubt that media has the biggest influence and reach today. Everything from entertainment to information is at the click of a button and with it comes the problem of regulation. With regards to mental health issues, there is a slow rise in shows and movies that explore them yet there is always the question of if they are being portrayed the right way. A lot of thought and delicacy has to be put into making these shows and movies that will ultimately be shown to a large audience. Responsibility must be taken by those who write the script so that the issues sought to break the taboo of talking about mental health and breaking the stigma surrounding it rather than just using them as a commercial marketing gimmick. So this week leading up to the Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th, we hope to explore some of the aspects of modern pop culture that have portrayed mental health issues. Some of the content might contain Trigger Warnings so please be aware of them. Do take the time to read through them and let us know of your own thoughts on how and if modern pop culture does its job of dealing with mental health issues well.