2021 was an extremely difficult year for so many of us. The year before was also tough, as all our lives turned upside down in March 2020 when the Covid pandemic forced our nation into the first lockdown. I think it is fair to say that life has never been the same since.
Yet, according to social media, most people I know have been having a wonderful time, particularly within the last few weeks of last year. Many of them were pictured with their loved ones, smiling from ear to ear, looking as if everything in their world was perfect.
But, as we know, social media can often mask the truth, especially in the transition period to a new year.
As I sit here writing this on the evening of 1 January, I’ve seen countless posts from people sharing their highlight reels from 2021 or making firm resolutions for 2022. Yet a study carried out by a group of UK universities into last year’s new year’s resolutions found that more than two-thirds of us abandon them within a month. The research also discovered that most resolutions involve either diet or exercise, and that people tend to make the same resolutions year after year after year.
Given all of the above, perhaps it is time we stop putting such pressure on ourselves, particularly around this period, and especially given the challenging couple of years we have each endured. I would even go so far as to suggest that we make 2022 the year to truly focus on, and to be frank about, our wellbeing.
Understandably, attention has been fixed on people’s physical health because of Covid. Surely, though, now more than ever, as we begin yet another year dominated by the virus, it is time to concentrate on the mental health impact of the pandemic.
At Beyond, the youth mental health charity I founded, we are deeply concerned by the increase in, as well as the severity of, psychological issues that we are seeing among the next generation.
Currently we are busily preparing for our second Mental Health Festival on 9 February, which is aimed at schools and colleges across the UK. Our first festival in 2021, setup in direct response to the national lockdowns, reached more than 500,000 students, teachers and parents. We’re hoping this festival will reach even further.
Of course, it is not just youngsters whose wellbeing we urgently need to address. It is all of us.
Later this week marks Jami’s annual Mental Health Shabbat. It’s wonderful to see lots of synagogues taking part and the initiative is now a key date in the Jewish community’s calendar. This year’s theme is, appropriately, Mental Health in a Changing World.
While initiatives like Mental Health Shabbat and Mental Health Festival are useful, it is important to acknowledge that for anyone affected by an ongoing mental illness, as well as their loved ones, mental health is an issue every single day, 365 days a year. We have to be doing so much more.
To me the general approach to this topic generally feels like a box-ticking exercise. Occasionally, the government will acknowledge it and tell us to look after our minds. I am often asked to give assemblies about my story in schools or deliver talks about it to companies. Every single time I do, I am approached by people afterwards who say something to me along the lines of: “That was great, but we really need more.”
My wish for 2022 (as it is every single year) is that we achieve what is known as Parity of Esteem, where mental health issues are treated equally with the same priority as physical health illnesses.
It is up to each one of us in the community to play our part to make this happen. Perhaps it might be a small change like choosing to go easy on yourself, and the people around you, if those new year’s resolutions are ultimately broken. Maybe it could even be posting something more honest and brave on social media, instead of your standard sharing.
If I’ve learnt one thing about mental health since I first started talking publicly about mental illness a decade ago, it is that sharing your own vulnerability is a true superpower. It will hopefully help both you and those around you who may be struggling too.
Never underestimate the importance of telling your story. In the words of Maya Angelou: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
May this be the year that you might be able to share something of your untold story and realise that not only are you are not alone, but that in releasing some of the burden you carry, brighter days are ahead for you during 2022. Wishing you a happier new year.
Jami expands to help youngsters aged 11 and over
Requests from young adults seeking help from Jami, the mental health charity for the Jewish community, have doubled over the past two years and demand for their Carer and Family Support services has tripled .
Jami’s consultation with the community has also shown there is an urgent need to ensure equivalent support for children, and so the charity will be launching a pilot service for youngsters of secondary school age. With no government funding, Jami is reliant on the community’s generosity and hopes to raise a significant amount at the 36-hour fundraising campaign on 23-24 January to ensure it can continue to expand services.
This weekend Jami is running a Mental Health Awareness Shabbat.
If you need support or are supporting someone who needs help, contact Jami on www.jamiuk.org/get-support or telephone 020 8458 2223.
If you are struggling to cope or need immediate help contact Shout via their 24/7free text service. Text Jami to 85258.
For free, safe and anonymous online counselling and support, just visit www.qwell.io/jami
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By Joe Millis