In these uncertain times, it is easy to get caught up in the heavy waves of helplessness that come with a world facing a pandemic, war, climate change and the ensuing tsunami of mental ill-health. Connecting with presence and hope through music, imagery and poetry can help us to open to a sense of possibility and connection with ourselves, others and the world around us.
Caring for each other beyond 'R U OK Day'
(Please go gently with yourself with this article - it talks about supporting people with thoughts of self harm and suicide. Take the care you need).
This is not a light read.
But it is an important one.
- Did you know that during the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic 1 in 10 Australian healthcare workers considered self harm or suicide? And that most of them did not seek professional help?
- Did you know that female doctors have a higher suicide rate than women in other careers?
- Half of Australian teachers experience anxiety and one fifth are depressed.
Given that we continue to live through a pandemic, climate change, overloaded systems and underresourced workplaces with increasing workloads, it is no wonder that we are stressed, anxious and depressed. As discussed in my blog 'The Helping Professionals Interview Series (Part 3): The Misnomer of Self Care', individuals not coping is a normal response to extreme pressure over a long period of time.
"If a plant were wilting we wouldn’t diagnose it with “wilting-plant-syndrome” – we would change its conditions. Yet when humans are suffering under unliveable conditions, we’re told something is wrong with us, and expected to keep pushing through. To keep working and producing, without acknowledging our hurt."
My aim for this blog is to find ways to explore how we can:
- safely manage our own discomfort,
- stop and listen to each other,
- acknowledge our hurt, and
- come together in hope, compassion and connection.
I don't want anyone to be so alone in their distress. I don't want anyone to feel that that ending their life feels like the only safe way to escape pain.
Suicide knows no boundaries. It is up to all of us to look out for those we care about and start a conversation that could change a life.
The first person I knew who died by suicide was my first crush.
I was 13 years old.
Since then, I've had several close friends take their own lives.
It is hard to believe those words.
In my second clinical placement at uni, one of my clients took his own life.
In my current work as a clinician working with children and young people impacted by family violence, and in my work supporting health and education professionals, my clients and I talk about:
- parts of them that want to hurt themselves, and
- parts of them that see the only way to keep themselves safe from their pain, is by taking the ultimate step of ending their life.
It is hard but important to have these conversations.
As they say at 'R U OK?': 'a conversation could change a life'.
- Sharing through talking about it in a safe and supportive environment reduces shame.
- It increases connection.
- It reduces isolation.
- It shares the load.
- sit with our own discomfort
- be vulnerable with someone who is safe, supportive and empathic
- have real, robust and brave conversations.
This helps us to feel seen, to feel understood, to feel that someone 'gets us', and to feel that we're not alone.
When in a state of distress empathy (feeling with another) is the link that helps us to move from feeling disconnected to connected. It enables us to identify with the feelings and perspectives of another and stay with those feelings.
This means being able to sit in joy AND discomfort.
Theresa Wiseman describes the four qualities of empathy as:
- Being able to see the world through another’s eyes
- Having an attitude of non-judgement
- Recognising emotions in others and
- Communicating understanding of these emotions
So how do we sit in discomfort?
First of all, I want to acknowledge that sitting with our own discomfort is hard.
It feels awkward and unpleasant; and many of us have worked really hard to NOT feel these sorts of things.
Some key points:
- Be kind to yourself.
- Find a way to physically support yourself: position yourself comfortably, in a way that feels good for you.
- Be mindful of your body posture, particularly if you start to mirror the body posture of the person you are listening to and supporting (making a conscious decision to shift your position so that you are not mirroring can help you to hold your own boundary and not take in as much of the emotional state of the other person).
- Breathe and try to have an open attitude: you don't need to solve any problems here. Open your ears, open your mind and open your heart: LISTEN.
- You don't have to talk; you can nod and / or make noises ("oh", "mmm") to show you're listening.
- When they have finished talking, you can say things like "that sounds hard", "I'm really sorry you're going through this". If you don't know what to say, you can just tell them that: "I don't know whay to say but I'm here for you".
It is important to encourage the person in distress to seek help through family, friends or professionally. In an emergency you can call 000.
Now, more than ever, we need to lean into our communities of support
There is just too much stress, hardship and real-life threat out there.
In the words of the many health and education professionals that I've spoken to, so often there is a self imposed pressure to: 'go it alone', 'push through, 'tough-it-out', 'ignore your needs', 'put on a brave face' or 'don't let anyone know if things are hard'.
These are the cultures of isolated pain that we live, work and suffer under.
Life can be tough, and for many, it's tougher than it should be. It's not fair.
But there is hope.
And our hope is in:
- turning towards each other with care, compassion and connection
- checking in to ask 'R U OK?'
- stopping to really listen
- to support ourselves, so that we can acknowledge our own pain, and the suffering in others around us
- appreciating the small moments of joy, of wonder and inner warmth
- to connect with something bigger: spirituality, awe, music, art, nature or whatever brings you out of your human experience, and into bigger plane
If you need help finding support for yourself or someone else, I'm available for a free 15 minute virtual cuppa. We can see which person or service may be best for you or anyone you're worried about.
You can also call the following numbers if you need advice or support:
Lifeline: 13 1114
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
For anyone in healthcare, you can reach out to Hand n Hand Peer Support here.
For more tips around having difficult conversations, have a look at the 'R U OK?' website here.
Relationships matter: the currency for systemic change is trust; and trust from forming healthy, working relationships. People not programs, change people.
The first four blogs in this five-part series have illuminated the significant challenges faced by workers in helping roles in Australia, and the need for change if we are going to sustain a stable and healthy workforce in healthcare and education. The statistics are dire, but there is a way forward. This blog explores how we can nurture hope in healthcare and education through presence and connection.
Tailored support to meet your needs and build inner resources for positive change.
Header image: Jack Sharp