On Friday I was Inspired.
Inspired by the growth of a community who support one another, a community who offer a safe space to talk and to share, a community of honesty, compassion, empathy, time, understanding and friendship.
On Friday I met with colleagues who are struggling with, have experience of or were interested in finding out more about mental health.
We held our first mental health umconference at work. Around 100 attended the day in Bristol from as far away as Preston and Cornwall. Unconferencibg is about setting the agenda on the day about subjects people want to talk about, and helps people find their tribe. Essential for this sort of event. I was a little worried, or anxious even that we might not get enough content, but boy was I wrong. Around 20 sessions were pitched and resonated with those in the audience.
I didn’t attend any of these as I was busy making sure the event ran, but feedback so far has suggested they worked really well.
The biggest success of the day for me was the sharing at the start. First video messages from our senior leaders including about manic depression, the importance of talking and the impacts of suicide.
Then stood on a small stage, watched by 100 people with more hanging over the balconies above, 8 people shared their mental health story. Introversion, breakdowns, supporting others, trying to be superwoman, depression and bi polar.
These stories touched people. They made them realise they are not alone. They built courage. They built understanding. They were incredible.
A special mention to Jason who had told me he would find sharing hard. Visibly shaking as he shared the impact bi polar has had and continues to have on his life, we had agreed I would leave him to wobble, and compose himself, and compose himself he did.
If you don’t understand or believe about the impacts of mental health talk to someone who has struggled, talk to me, talk to Jason, or Nev, Helen, Estelle, Betsy, Clare, Kevin or any of the 100 people who were there.
I heard there were a few complaints about the noise we made (sorry about that but we need to be heard) and also heard someone say they were sorry they couldn’t come down and play with us.
I walked away from that conversation as they pushed my buttons with a poorly chosen word. I hope they reflected and I'd be happy to talk to them or anyone about the realities.
What I should have said is “We were not playing, poor mental health is not fun, it’s not a game, it’s a real thing, it’s a disability, it keeps you up all night, it stops you doing things in the day, it ruins lives, families, jobs, relationships, it makes you hurt yourself, it kills people. It’s definitely not playing.”
We've still got a lot of work to do and the more people that share the better understanding will get.
Aside from the pride I felt watching people talk, share and open up, amongst many favourite moments I had one favourite.
The evening before I met Jason and Stephen for the first time ever. We went for a drink and a curry.
Three men, all of a similar age, sat talking openly about feelings, about tears, about challenges and about the strength to be drawn from being open. The strength to be drawn from talking.
Three men, in a pub, then a curry house talking about mental health, not whispering but talking. We might have even got a little bit loud after the 3rd or 4th pint.
We’re making real progress.
Mr Paul Wyse