'We are all parts of bigger systems and none of us need to feel we must deal with things on our own'

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By Patricia Tumelty

Feeling Padraic’s confusion and despair in the award-winning The Banshees of Inisherin tragicomedy reminds us of the difficulty in telling a friend, family or lover that you no longer want to be part of their world.

The portrayal of friendship evokes moments of terror when we stop to question what our lives add up to. The consequences of leading a life trying to be nice to others and the impact of isolation make a strong case for the benefits of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

As we all muddle through January in one of the saddest times in the history of Jersey, a sense of connection and community is more important than ever. Reflecting on the devastating events leading up to Christmas, many people have been telling me that they feel guilty for carrying on as normal. Some describe not knowing what to think or feel. These reactions are normal, as there is no right or wrong way to respond. Keeping going is also what makes us human as we hug those closest to us.

Studies of critical incidents describe how in the early stages following tragic events dealing with facts rather than feelings is an important first step. Small groups of colleagues or friends can support each other by talking through the facts even as investigations are ongoing, and facts are scarce. Rest and time out for those directly involved is crucial. The sheer suddenness and not knowing the details can add to the overwhelming distress some people experience. Critical incidents can also bring up physical and psychological symptoms for people, albeit to different degrees depending on levels of involvement and personal circumstances. Physical and emotional reactions can include recurrent thoughts about the event, feeling uneasy or anxious, mood changes, restlessness, feeling tired and having disturbed sleep. It is important not to label someone as not coping or potentially ill for responding in a certain way and to highlight the common and normal responses while watching out for people who may need extra or more specialist support.

For some people, their individual response may be increased concerns around safety and taking longer than usual to make day-to-day decisions. Family and friends will be experiencing loss beyond our comprehension and our thoughts and focus is with them. At the community level the organisations directly involved, including our blue-light services and our public and voluntary mental-health organisations, will be busy supporting those in crisis. Our government will be monitoring all the layers of interaction. I list the different layers here as a reminder that we are all parts of systems connected to bigger systems and that none of us need to feel we must deal with things on our own. It is also a time to encourage those we are worried about to seek help.

Other political and media attention is around the isolation felt by carers. This includes relatives caring for family with severe mental-health challenges. The carers we work with at Mind Jersey know a lot about fighting through the different layers of services, systems and bureaucracy. Daily we witness carers dancing on a knife edge as they gently nudge family members to seek help and learn to live with a diagnosis that is still not as socially acceptable as a physical diagnosis. They also take the time to welcome new carers with open arms to their monthly carer’s support meetings at PiP’s Place. These groups are important, as recent research has shown that despite all the education around mental health this has not directly translated into reducing stigma for people and carers living with enduring mental-health problems.

The mental-health environment we are working in is tough, with the increased demand for services and diminishing resources, pandemic recovery and the cost-of-living crisis all colliding. We are moving through a complex Islandwide transformation of physical and mental-health care. These challenges we face will be bearable if we continue to try to communicate in ways that leave all people feeling heard and respected.

Mind Jersey recently opened its new mental-health drop-in centre at the Seale Street corner of the Town Hall. Anyone aged 18-plus is welcome to pop in and have a chat or just to sit in a warm space with a hot drink. If anyone reading would like to support any of our projects, including the drop-in centre, please consider volunteering with us and keep connected to something bigger than yourself. We need more volunteers within our mental-health peer support team. Current volunteers tell us that even one hour a week doing something for someone else helps top up your emotional piggy bank and help sustain positive mental health

A man I spoke with recently had a tattoo of a tree, which he told me was a reminder of his safe happy space. He had gone to great symbolic lengths to help ground himself in the here and now. And as the world is not going to suddenly slow down, we need to try to ground ourselves, to sit, rest and be patient for what is around the corner. As we look ahead to 2023 let us all try and behave in ways that avoid the shocking consequences as begot Colm in the Banshees movie. His attempts to ground himself were not for the faint-hearted but an excellent moral tale about family, friendships and feuds.

  • Patricia is executive director at Mind Jersey and can be contacted at P.tumelty@mindjersey.org

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