By the time you finish reading this,12 people around the world will have taken their own life
When I started to think about what I wanted to say with this article, I couldn’t quite formulate my thoughts clearly. For the last week I’ve been trying to understand why the tragic death of Caroline Flack has affected me so much. She’s three years younger than me? She was the kind of woman you thought had it all together? She didn’t deserve it? If she’d had been mentally stronger, would she still be here? If, if, if.
I knew that writing would help and it’s an article that, even though it will only get about two readers (!) is important to me. “Don’t write for anyone else, write for yourself.” Sage advice.
Perhaps the best place to start is by being open and honest about one reason why I probably have been affected. Which is also why I have been supporting mental health charities for 18 years and a reason why Undisturbed will be a vehicle for positive mind health, something I believe most of us struggle with on some level from time to time.
It was a typical Saturday night – a night out with friends, dancing, chatting, having a laugh, up until the wee small hours. I was 25 and living with my parents. I rolled in at 9am(ish) on a cold November morning and went straight to my bed on the ground floor of our house. I had barely pulled the quilt over myself when I heard the landline ringing in the living room next to my bedroom.
I knew it wasn’t good from the side of the conversation that I could sort of hear. I didn’t want to know. I wish my mum didn’t have to come into my room. I wish I could have gone to sleep, safe from the reality that was about to descend. The reality that my aunt, uncle and cousin were already living.
My aunt and uncle had been out on a night out too. They arrived home at midnight. They came home to find a note behind the front door. My uncle ran to the garage. But it was too late. I remember that Sunday morning like it was yesterday.
My cousin would be 39 now. He’d be celebrating his 40th this year on this planet. The same age as Caroline.
Our most complex organ
Our brains are so complex and it has this unbelievable ability to catapult us to somewhere in our past. A place we’d probably rather forget. But you don’t. You’re so vividly taken there. Every emotion surfaces, the heart pounding, sinking feeling in the very pit of your stomach.
Our mind tries to make sense of it all. Dazed and confused. And I can’t help but think about how we help to stop something that seems to be an epidemic. Worse than the Corona Virus. But not treated with the same level of urgency or protection from prevention. In 2018 6,859 people died because they felt there was no other way to cope with life.
Since the Corona Virus hit, a team somewhere have pulled together an advert for the radio advising us of how to prevent the Corona Virus from spreading with clear and present instructions on what to do. There have been no deaths from the Corona Virus in the UK. Globally 500 people have died from the effects of the virus. Which is awful. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), 1 person every 40 seconds will have taken their own life.
So where are the radio adverts with clear and present instructions on how to prevent or treat depression? Where is the sense of urgency around a real and present threat? On how to prevent spiralling thoughts? On how to stop nasty, ill thought out comments on social media or, if your job/career puts you in the public eye, in the press, from penetrating your mind like a parasite?
The Rumour Mill – Has your private life ever been the subject of office gossip?
It’s Wednesday afternoon. The Wednesday after a big office night out. A group of you ended up out clubbing – an alcohol fuelled destress. There’s been so much going on at work lately that you all needed it. Someone in your office confides in you that they haven’t been feeling great lately. Stuff going on at home and work getting on top of them. You can see they’re using the night to escape what’s going on. So you make sure they enjoy themselves. You get them on the dance floor, stumble to the nearest kebab shop at 3am, where you both start chatting to another group of people. You end up back at a party. Before you know it, it’s 9am and your inebriated finger and half shot eye is ordering an Uber. You pour your colleague into the taxi and arrive at their home. The fresh air has helped them to sober up a bit but you wait until they’re safely inside before the taxi drives off again. As you drive off, you can see their partner at the window, they must have heard the taxi. You think nothing more of it.
Monday morning comes around all too soon. You and your colleague catch up for a coffee – they have something they need to get off their chest. They had an argument with their partner. They weren’t happy at the 9am home time. Or the drunken stupor. Anger takes over on both sides. One walks up the stairs, the other runs after them and they’re both at the top of the stairs when the person at the top turns around and accidentally swipes their arm across their face. They lose their balance and end up falling back down the stairs injuring their ankle and bruising themselves. They end up at A&E. Your colleague is so upset they’re visibly shaken. Although things haven’t been great they don’t usually get so angry with each other. And they feel so bad about what happened.
Little do either of you know that there’s someone standing in the queue who has overheard snippets of your conversation. That someone is the office gossip. The person who doesn’t have any hobbies or interests of their own, who takes great pleasure in talking about others and spreading half truths or often lies. This person has no scruples, no morals, no ethics, no compassion. They take great pleasure in bringing others down.
They go back to their desk having heard half a story and ping a chat request to their gossip buddy. “You’ll never guess what I just heard.”
Bullying and Harrassment in the Workplace
According to the UK Government website, “Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.” They even give examples of what this includes:
· spreading malicious rumours
· unfair treatment
· picking on or regularly undermining someone
· denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
Bullying and harassment can happen:
· by letter
· by email
· by phone
Notice something missing from the list? I’d say it needs to be update with Social media. Because now we have this channel available 24/7, inside and outside the workplace.
It’s not just internally that bullying and harassment takes place.
When I sit on the train in the morning or evening coming to/from my office, I see posters telling passengers to respect Scotrail staff. Many Scotrail public facing staff have been issued with camera recording equipment, draped around their neck like a small bullet proof vest to help provide some level of protection as they do their job. They don’t come to work to be abused. The same posters can be seen in hospital waiting rooms to protect staff whilst they too are at their workplace.
Do any of us expect to be bullied or harassed in the workplace by our colleagues or by the people we serve? No. And if it’s persistent, I doubt very much that the majority of us would have the strength of character to take it on the chin or wash it off. However, I’m sure most of us have experienced bullying on some level at some point in our lives. A lot of this when we are in our childhood, which, as you know, stays with us forever in our minds. That most complex of organs.
And for Caroline and the people who have careers presenting the TV shows that we watch, who make our entertainment possible, the list could also be updated with the addition of the tabloid press and trashy gossip magazines.
Sticks and stones
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
I call bullshit. Names and words might not physically hurt but they manifest themselves in other ways. Firing up horrible thoughts and feelings we had as a child that lie buried deep within our unconscious and we struggle to make sense of.
External factors can play a part in every aspect of our health. Eating the wrong foods, breathing in toxic fumes and not exercising can cause cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease. And external factors also play havoc with our brain. Ultimately, everything that affects our brain is external. Isn't it? Think about it, what exactly is causing us to have thoughts? Guaranteed it's something that's happened on the outside - social pressures, childhood memories, something you read, something you believe because of something you were told by someone else. Or something else.
Where are the thoughts coming from? And how can we change them? Our thoughts don't have to live in our heads if we don't want them to. We can train our brain to think differently. And we do need to accept that life is shit sometimes. But we can cope. We can tell our brain that we can cope. We can tell our brain, you're causing me pain so I'm going to put a plaster on you for a while and that plaster is going to be filled with less negative and more positive thoughts. That plaster is going to tell me I'm fucking alright. That this shit won't last forever. My brain is malfunctioning. And I'm going to see a GP or a therapist to help me.
For the Corona Virus the NHS gives us the following specific advice:
· cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
· put used tissues in the bin immediately.
· wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
· try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
People also wear face masks because they believe it helps prevent the spread of germs.
For Depression the NHS has no such clear, specific advice. There is advice, but we are directed to a Self Assessment questionnaire.
So here’s an attempt at specific advice when we start to feel a bit shit:
· Treat negative thoughts as if they are a sneeze. Open your mouth (nose optional) when a negative thought comes into your brain. Talk to someone close, to a therapist, call a helpline or see a GP.
· Throw used negative thoughts in the bin immediately. That's where they belong.
· Wash your face or hair with soap/shampoo and water. Imagine giving your brain a wash, cleaning it from the germs, the infectious negative thoughts.
· Try to avoid close contact with anyone or anything that causes your brain to have negative thoughts.
And perhaps we need metaphorical masks for our eyes and ears when we need to shut out the nasty negative viruses that humans can spread.
Some people have a strong heart. Some people have a weak heart that needs to be exercised and cared for. Some people have a strong brain. But some people have a brain that isn’t so strong. Some people have a brain that needs to be retuned or rewired. Made stronger. Nurtured and nourished in the same way as a heart needs to be. Loved.
Talk. Get help. Your brain can be fixed. We hope it can.
For more information about suicide from the World Health Organisation
Look after your brain. Look after you.