Herald Express - - Letters & Opinion -

ON THE front page of a na­tional news­pa­per this week­end, a half page colour pic­ture of the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex set me think­ing. They were on Aus­tralia’s fa­mous Bondi Beach, sur­rounded by men­tal health cam­paign­ers.

My first thought was the duke and duchess seem to be a breath of fresh air blow­ing through gen­er­a­tions of rigid pro­to­col. Watch­ing Prince Harry hug peo­ple al­most brought a tear to my eye. The fact that they em­brace men­tal health in such a pos­i­tive way is also very re­fresh­ing.

I’ve been to that hor­rid place of dark­ness at a time when my men­tal health was a lit­tle too wob­bly and it isn’t nice.When I was a young man the at­ti­tude to wob­bly men­tal health was sim­ply a rigid mes­sage to snap out of it and get a grip. That un­feel­ing re­sponse of­ten sim­ply deep­ened a feel­ing of lone­li­ness and worth­less­ness.

A com­ment by the duchess did make me raise an eye­brow. She said that she felt freed since ditch­ing so­cial me­dia. I did won­der whether that sim­ply meant not us­ing tra­di­tional in­ter­net plat­forms like Face­book (or as my daugh­ter says Book­face!), Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and oth­ers – or a more to­tal ap­proach of mov­ing away from all modern me­dia.

Let me hold my hands up here and con­fess that I am ad­dicted to so­cial me­dia plat­forms and spend far too much time drift­ing through cy­berspace. It is for me a source of joy in so many ways. I love the pos­i­tiv­ity of many post­ings and the em­pathic re­sponse when things go wrong.

I am equally aware of the darker side of this modern phe­nom­e­non. For far too many peo­ple the ap­par­ent gre­gar­i­ous na­ture of so­cial me­dia is ac­tu­ally a source of sad­ness and lone­li­ness. End­less pic­tures and post­ing of peo­ple hav­ing fun when you feel des­per­ately un­happy, sim­ply adds to a grow­ing feel­ing of melan­choly.

A lit­tle while ago I did at­tempt to limit my on­line time. I stopped us­ing a tablet for a while and that did help. Un­for­tu­nately my bleep­ing smart phone of­ten con­tained more than a mes­sage and prompted me wan­der­ing off into cy­berspace seek­ing an­swers!

There is a rather clever acro­nym do­ing the rounds at the mo­ment that may make you think about the na­ture of so­cial me­dia and men­tal health. The acro­nym is FOMO – fear of miss­ing out! That wor­ries me and hope­fully wor­ries you as well.

I still work as a men­tor and of­ten find my­self coun­selling peo­ple skip­ping around on the edge of dark­ness. One in­ter­est­ing com­po­nent of poor men­tal health is of­ten a lack of sleep. There are a num­ber of quite sim­ple ex­er­cises that can help, but one huge fac­tor is en­sur­ing that your smart­phone or tablet is not part of your nightscape.

Mess­ing around on the in­ter­net in the early hours can be dam­ag­ing to men­tal health – es­pe­cially at a time when wor­ries seem to grow in size through half closed eyes. I’ve writ­ten in the past about what I call the de­mons of the night. Find­ing places away from the daily ‘cut and thrust’ of daily life and free from bleep­ing mo­bile de­vices is a good thing. You can, of course, achieve that sort of state with­out leav­ing home.

One of my favourite places for boost­ing my men­tal health and spir­i­tual en­ergy is Buck­fast Abbey. You don’t have to be Catholic or a mem­ber of any other re­li­gious tra­di­tion to en­joy the quiet seren­ity of that beau­ti­ful abbey church. I’ve of­ten pointed peo­ple in that di­rec­tion when life seems to be push­ing them down. Find­ing a quiet cor­ner for a lit­tle med­i­ta­tion in front of a flick­er­ing can­dle can be a won­der­ful source of men­tal well­be­ing. Why not give it a try? Mean­while we must do our best to keep the smile.

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