You can save a life with just a smile
Mind Moves: A smile, a gesture, a chat can save a life
It feels like we still can’t talk comfortably about mental health problems in Ireland, never mind talking to someone we think may be having a tough time.
We live in a relatively modern country, so why is it that we still only notice something’s wrong when it’s far too late? What’s so scary about talking to someone when they seem down?
Having mental health problems does not mean you’re mentally ill and someone’s having a bad day, week, or month and not taking it well does not make them “crazy” or “mad”. Sometimes people just need someone to chat to, someone to have a cup of tea with and talk some stuff over.
We still seem to have this backward view of people who are having a bad time of it. They are just ignored. Often people feel uncomfortable and pretend they aren’t aware that Karen has been isolating herself from everyone, or that Glenn hasn’t been coming into town lately and when he does he just seems a bit off.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to blame the Irish public. I just think we could do more. It isn’t our fault if we’re reluctant to talk to someone who has clearly got something going on.
We all know how hard it is to talk about our problems, but isn’t that what should motivate us to reach out to someone when they are obviously not okay? Wouldn’t we want someone to talk to us if we were going through a bad time?
Obviously we aren’t all psychotherapists or counsellors, but I’m not talking about having interventions or therapy sessions. I’m talking about the little things, such as “Hi” and “How are you?” I’m talking about acknowledging the fact that all of us go through tough times and that it shouldn’t make us social pariahs.
Ignoring the problem in the hope that it’ll just disappear doesn’t work. We can all help: it doesn’t have to take up too much of our time; it won’t use up the contents of your wallet; and it won’t be any more trouble than saying “How’s it going Pádraig?” or “You okay Méabh?”
As the spoken word poet and rapper Scroobius Pip says in his song Domestic Silence, “It doesn’t always take grand gestures or miracles.”
As a country, we need to be more aware of our actions when it comes to mental health. Often, it only takes a little recognition and positive interaction to change the way someone’s week is going.
I can’t claim to be the voice of all young people, but I do have experience of being the person who could have used someone to talk to but didn’t know how to start this critical conversation.
For me, anything might have worked: it could have been that “You okay?” or “What’s going on?” Maybe even then I may have deflected, but when a conversation gets started by someone else it makes it easier to talk about the hard times.
So I hope that what I’m saying is taken on board. I hope it starts a kitchen conversation or two, because I believe it’s something that needs to be talked about.
It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture to have a huge impact on someone. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that count. It’s in the everyday kindnesses that we live. Often, it’s a smile, a look or a gesture that helps us to connect.
It’s said that we gossip to avoid feeling. When I was going through a hard time, I really wanted someone to talk to me and help me make sense of what was going on.
All I needed was some quality listening. I didn’t need solutions. I think I just needed to hear myself out loud and let someone know.
Take time to call someone into the day. Give someone who is isolated a small nudge of welcome. It’s not just important – it’s the little things that save lives.
* Bobby Edgar is a youth adviser with Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health headstrong.ie.
Tony Bates is on leave.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.