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10 May 2022

Mental Health Awareness Week: Helping to open windows

An article for Mental Health Awareness Week by Fiona, Director of Operations, SANE.

SANE’s mission, according to our CEO Marjorie Wallace, is: “We believe no one affected by mental illness should be alone when they face crisis, distress or despair.”

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week particularly resonates with the Services Team at SANE, who understand the harm caused by both loneliness and isolation, which can mean very different things. 

“When I talk to someone from SANE, it’s like a window has opened – and the view changes.”

SANEline caller

We tell our callers that however bleak things are, or alone they feel, that things can be different. We always leave the door open for people returning to us for further support.

Jennie Wishart Girl in the Window

Loneliness

By providing compassionate emotional support (through phone calls, emails or texts), sometimes on a long-term basis, we cannot entirely remove loneliness, but share in it for a while each week, offering empathy and encouragement for the pain people are in.

Our callers, both individuals and carers, tell us that knowing we will call when we say we will and how much our team of volunteers and staff care, keeps them going during their most difficult times.

At the heart of what we do is getting to know our callers, so that we can provide a truly personal approach.

Sometimes that means ringing someone every Saturday, because weekends can be the hardest, or calling on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.

Picture: The Girl in the Window by Jennie Wishart

We know when some of our callers’ birthdays are, when a painful anniversary is, or the day of a medical or psychiatric appointment. Our recent survey showed that for almost half of callers, we are their only support, and often the only person someone speaks to that week.

An example of our support – Maggie’s story

Shortly after the beginning of the pandemic, we were contacted by Maggie (*name and identifying details changed), who had lived with her dad who she cared for, though he had recently died.

During our first calls she cried throughout, and eventually revealed her own diagnosis of schizophrenia, and how she feels it isolated her throughout her life. But she also said she had not experienced loneliness until finding herself dealing with her grief alone in the house.

Maggie says our calls mean the world to her – that she feels we understand her, that we’ve never let her down and that we care. We will be ringing Maggie again next week, on the second anniversary of her father’s death. We are slowly trying to encourage her to build a new life.

Isolation

Loneliness and isolation have a profound impact on emotional wellbeing, and while many of us have experienced these emotions, for some there is no relief. Loneliness can affect a person’s life expectancy and can reduce their ability to deal with both physical and mental illness.

As the Director of Operations at SANE, I recognise the importance of Mental Health Awareness Week, but am all too aware that most of our callers deal with their mental illness, or that of their loved ones, every day of the year. An awareness week on its own cannot reflect the lives of people affected by severe mental illness all year round.

The quote at the start of this blog is from one of our callers. It sums up for me what we aim to achieve each day – to help open windows and change views.

We are here, 365 days a year, for anyone affected by mental illness, or in emotional distress. You can find out more about what we offer by visiting our Emotional Support page.


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