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.