The transition from Winter to Spring can see weather that’s Jekyll and Hyde! One day, the weather is mild and sunny and we’re able to enjoy the crocuses peeping their heads above the ground and the next it’s howling gales and blizzards. As Mental Health First Aid instructor, Andy Elwood explains, a mental health recovery journey can feel like this sometimes, too. But that’s OK.
It’s Springtime. We’re coming out of the darker, colder, wintery weather when so many people struggle with their mental health and their wellbeing. We’re looking beyond the SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, to longer and brighter days. Warmer days mean we have more opportunities to get outside into nature and to do things that we enjoy doing and doing them with other people, so we’re getting that connection. This is all good for positive mental health.
We were seeing in nature that the buds are starting to come. We’ve had snow drops and daffodils. There are more birds around. And spring is a great time to notice all these changes. And when you’re tuned into these things, we can be very mindful in nature. It’s a very positive time of the year.
But then we had that spell of snow and where I live, we had around 40 centimetres in two-and-a-half days. It was a phenomenal change. We weren’t ready for it and it just made me think this is like a mental health recovery journey. We were on the track for spring. We were feeling really good, but then we had a bit of a setback. And often that’s what we find in a recovery journey when someone is living with a condition or has a diagnosis of a condition.
Recovery is not a destination
Recovery is not a linear journey, where we keep going up and up. It’s quite common that we can feel we’re going two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it can even feel that we’re going one step forward and two steps back. There’ll be many twists and turns and ups and downs on a recovery journey. So, in this respect, recovery is not a destination; it’s more of an ongoing journey. That’s a key message here. We don’t talk about a cure in mental health. We talk about a recovery journey.
So that’s why we use helpful language. And this is great if you want to have a conversation and to support someone on their recovery journey. We use language like ‘living with a condition’ or ‘experiencing a condition’. That’s why we use the language of “Andy is experiencing depression.” “Andy is living with depression”.
So, I would say I live with depression. I’m aware of it. It’s part of me and part of my life now, but it doesn’t define me. It’s not everything there is to know about me. That’s only part of who I am. I am also a husband, a dog dad, a brother, a son, a veteran rider. I am also a Mental Health First Aid instructor. I’m very outdoorsy. I like riding my bicycle. I am a classic Land Rover pilot. These are some of the other things that are interesting about me, are part of me, are who I am.
Everyone’s experience is unique
So, increasing our self-awareness will really help us on our recovery journey. But the key message is that each person will experience their condition individually. Each person’s experience will be different. And that’s very important for us to appreciate.
Our recovery journey will be extremely individual as well. What helps us, what works for us, will be different for everyone. But despite that, we can’t do it alone. And this is another key message. Support and encouragement from other people is so important. Whether that’s at work, or at home.
Mental Health First Aid really helps people to provide that support by listening actively to how the person is feeling, what’s going on and asking relevant questions. We then give options to the person to get them to consider a positive way forward. People are given that message of hope, which is so important when it comes to recovery. When someone seeks, accepts or engages with the help that’s available, it’s not just possible to find a recovery, but it’s likely to find a recovery.
Take things steady
By giving them options and encouraging them to choose one, and to make baby steps, is better than to aim for something massive and fail to get there. If we aim for something that’s just a little bit above where we are now, that’s great. We can feel a sense of achievement when we get there and move to the next little thing. And that’s often a better way to go.
By giving options, we’re giving back some control. And for so many of us, we feel that life is a little out of control. We’re feeling trapped or overwhelmed. So, giving back a bit of control is really positive. And that hope for the future is a key message for us to give.
By listening, we’re delivering empathy. So, if someone wants to support a person who’s struggling, make an approach, ask an open question, start that conversation. And three things to say that work in almost every case are: “This is really common”. Because mental health conditions are really common. “You’re not alone in feeling like this” and “There’s plenty of help out there. We just want to find the right help for you”.
So we’re normalising the conversation about mental health, we are helping that person realise it’s not just them and giving that message of hope for the future and that recovery journey.
And we can make a comparison to physical health. So, if someone had type one diabetes, asthma, or maybe even epilepsy and they engage with professional treatment, they may be taking medication for the rest of their life. But when they’re engaging with that, learning about their condition, making some adjustments to their lifestyle, maybe at home and at work and getting the support of family, friends and their workplace, they can still lead a satisfying life that contributes to society. And it’s just the same with mental health. When someone engages on that recovery journey, they can live with a condition and still have a satisfying, productive life, which contributes to society.
Andy Elwood is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and an ambassador for Movember.
He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations from his 20 years’ experience working in the emergency services as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters.