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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: My journey with mental health and the Samaritans

In the second of a three-part series this week, Charlotte discusses her own journey and how she gives back to the community.

One of the ways I have joined the fight against mental health stigma is by becoming a Samaritan. Although I have always had a passion for helping people who are struggling with their mental health or are vulnerable, my decision to become a Samaritan and to study mental health arose from a traumatic life event that I suffered myself in 2019 when one of my siblings passed away at just 40, following a courageous battle with ill health.

Although I had suffered loss before losing my brother, nothing had prepared me for the loss of a sibling. After my youngest brother’s passing I didn’t particularly care about anything outside my family unit, but people still cared about me and helped me without being asked. Once I had come through the worst of it, I did recognise that the people in my life had allowed me to deal with things in my own way but had in the background been there, thinking about me, offering support and kind words of encouragement, and helping with things that would make life easier when I was ready to return to normality. It was then that I realised how utterly hopeless someone without that support must feel. This in turn led to my decision to become a Samaritan and to study mental health/advocacy and counselling/treatments.

I am sure all of you are aware of the Samaritans already but essentially the Samaritans offer a safe place to talk without judgement 24/7. They work with employers, the prison service, in schools and even in the armed forces by offering support services. There seems to be an outside view that people only contact the Samaritans when they have reached their lowest low and may be considering drastic measures, but this is quite far from the truth. Although, very unfortunately, some of the callers have reached this stage, many are stressed at work, or feeling out of control due to a number of issues including; debt, relationships, loneliness, financial worries, mental health disorders, or are sufferers of domestic violence or crime.

Many callers are suffering loneliness and the pandemic has only increased the amount of people struggling with this. The Samaritans hear from people from all walks of life and for various reasons, and many of the callers need to speak to someone who is on the outside of the problem and are not a family member, work colleague or friend. Being a Samaritan means listening and this is the thing I find most challenging of all coming from a day job whereby my role is to provide advice! It is only natural to want to solve someone’s problem but often callers contact the Samaritans because they are tired of being given advice or told what to do rather than just being listened to. It is actually really difficult to just listen and not advise – yet it is a powerful method of helping someone – so that’s something to think about if someone does open up to you about their mental health.

Although the increasing amount of mental health issues in society saddens me, I am proud that as a country we are becoming more and more open, and more and more determined to feel better, to cope better and to focus on our wellbeing more. Although the pandemic caused an increase in mental health issues, it has been a wake-up call to many people who were trudging through life completely burned out prior to and even during the pandemic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t imagine going back to my pre-Covid life now and the pandemic really made me focus on what I want from the future and what things will take priority in my life.

I am sure that many of us have had to cope with a deterioration in our mental health at some point whether that be through grief, relationship breakdown, financial worries, prejudice, or anything else. The legal world is a very stressful one for most people with research showing that 65% of the industry are suffering stress. I imagine that many of us have felt completely overwhelmed or burnt out, especially over this last year. I’m guessing a lot of you just answered yes to that question in your heads. But how many talked about it with someone else? How many took a step back, showed themselves some self-care and started again? Or was it a case of just powering through burnout, attempting to get to that untouched territory of a ‘completed to do list?’ I realised a while ago that I may as well have been looking for a unicorn but if anyone has ever managed that then well done!

In part 3 I share my top tips for looking after your mental health, click here, if you missed part one, click here.