Time to talk

4 February 2021

Ewan Aitken CEO writes for our blog for Time to Talk Day:

This pandemic has taught me to multitask – well ok, perhaps not in the usual sense but I can now feel “Mad, Sad and Glad” in the same moment and do so on a regular basis! There is no doubt one of the unexpected consequences of lockdown has been the heightened awareness of mental health and the increased willingness by many to talk about the challenges struggling with mental health brings; so, I feel mad about the situation in which I find myself feeling sad more often than I usually do but I feel glad these days its easier to talk about it.

Mental health is not something only other people have. Our mental health is part of our overall health. It can be good health or not in large part by our choices; in the same way our physical health is impacted by our choice of a second slice of cake or a 7k. But its not just our choices. Our mental health is affected by a myriad of other factors beyond our control. Poverty and trauma are two big factors impacting how strong our mental health is and there are many others. We know, for example, homelessness has a huge impact of people mental health as does poor diet.

What we also know is talking helps. This is not really news – we all know the positive impact of sharing how we are feeling with people we trust. They don’t need to have a solution. They just need to listen like we matter to them. We just need to know we are not alone with what we are facing and feeling.

The fact the words “listen” and “silent” have the same letters has always struck me as a serendipitous reminder the best kind of listening has no answers, only attention and time. I know there have been many times when I have done more by saying less or even nothing at all. I remember visiting an old lady whose husband’s funeral was one of the first I ever conducted. She made me a cup of tea and sat down in her old arm chair. We were quiet for a moment and then I ask; so how are you doing? I did not speak for another hour. They had been married for over 60 years and she talked me through every decade. When she finally stopped I had no idea what to say so I said the first thing I could think of; “you were very happy together weren’t you”. “Aye son, we were that” was her quiet reply.  I got up to leave and she said “thank you son – you’ve been a big help”. Two sentences in an hour. It wasn’t talking, it was listening which mattered most. When someone is struggling with life and feeling low, time and attention, for even a few moments can a life changing gift.

Today is “Time to Talk” day. It reminds us the smallest of conversations can have the biggest of impacts. Colleagues today will be talking part with a couple of virtual events which will, as ever, involve food, including the cooking of banana bread. It’s a very good thing and one I’d really encourage us all to take part in -  but to be well balanced, it needs us also to remember the power of listening.