A message for World Mental Health Day from Dr Andrew Girdher, Clinical Chair

Are you OK?

Three simple words that aren’t spoken enough. Three simple words that, when asked at the right time, can feel like a lifeline. Three simple words that can really make a difference to not only somebody’s day, but their week, month, maybe even their year.

We all lead busy lives, and at times we’re all guilty of being too occupied with work, iPhones, housework, the football scores or anything else that steals time from our days.

Our reliance on these everyday distractions has no doubt increased over the last few months, as we all look for respite from the day-to-day doom and gloom that is coronavirus, self-isolation and social distancing.

But while it’s all too easy to immerse ourselves in social media news feeds at the end of each day, now is the time for us all to make that extra effort to look up from our phones and ask the people closest to us if they are OK.

With around one in four adults likely to suffer from an episode of poor mental health at some point during their lives, you might just be surprised at the answer you receive.

Given the sacrifices we’ve all had to make this year, be it at work or at home, it’s no surprise that more people than ever before have found themselves feeling lost, alone and, in some cases, unable to cope.

It might just be that your wife, your husband, your best friend, your neighbour or even that person who always seems to have a spring in their step is feeling not quite themselves right now.

As a GP, I know that problems relating to mental health never come with a label, nor do they arrive with instructions or an expiry date.

Helping a friend or loved-one overcome something as intense as depression, anxiety, loneliness or paranoia is not straight-forward, and won’t be achieved over a single cup of tea.

However, the important thing to bear in mind this World Mental Health Day is that every person’s recovery starts somewhere, and that somewhere might just be a cup of tea and three simple words.

These small acts of kindness have the potential to go a long way and, as we all look towards an uncertain winter, a time of year that even in the most normal of times can be tough for many, let’s all make the effort to check in with those we care about.

Mental health is every bit as important as physical health and, in the same way you would ask a friend if they were OK if their leg happened to be bleeding, it’s important to check how they are when they seem distant, quiet or upset.

Of course, as friends and relatives, we can only do so much, but there are a number of resources out there, many of which are listed on the ICB website, that can help a person in need.

GPs can also signpost people to local support services, while also sharing their own insight, knowledge and experience.

This year has been unlike any other, and what’s still to come will definitely test us, but through kindness and looking out for one another, we can prevail.

Dr Andrew Girdher
Clinical Chair, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Integrated Care Board