6th February marks Time to Talk Day. Here Martin Elliot, Deputy District Commissioner in Craigalmond District talks about how facing mental ill-health has shown him the importance of openly talking about mental health.
Mental health problems affect one in four of us and yet talking about mental health is too often still seen as a taboo subject. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk about it and to listen to others.
You might wonder why we need a day to encourage people to talk and if I am honest up until a couple of years ago, I would probably have agreed with you. But that all changed at the end of 2018 when my son Jamie was born. A time that should have been a celebration turned to terror as it quickly became clear that all was not well, and we were told that Jamie had a rare genetic condition.
The shock of realising that as a best-case scenario we were going to be raising a severely disabled child was the most difficult thing my wife and I had ever had to face. My default response was to try to focus on what action I could take and not confront the feelings that this life changing event brought up. For a while this seemed to work as we tried to have as normal a life as we could with our little boy, enjoying trips to the zoo and managing to get away for a short holiday. But as time passed and the scale of Jamie’s challenges became clearer as he didn’t develop as other babies, the toll on my mental health grew. Thankfully, whilst I didn’t recognise the need to talk about what I was going through, others did – and nowhere more so than in Scouting.
I am fortunate that in Scouting I am part of some great teams, and no more so than my District team. The regular meetings with my DC and fellow DDC moved from focussing on the operation of the district, to being an opportunity to talk about what I was going through without judgement or pity but a desire to better understand and help me. Diane Marshall, former Deputy RC, would pop in to visit the three of us and her regular messages to ask how I was doing gave an opportunity to release some of the growing stress I was facing.
At the time I didn’t realise what a difference these opportunities to talk were making but as I look back now, I hate to think what would have happened if they hadn’t been there as an opportunity to share some of the burden I was carrying.
Unfortunately, Jamie’s challenges continued to grow and in the summer, he was admitted to the Sick Kids Hospital, where he passed away in August. The day after Jamie died, one of the first people I met was my former District Commissioner, who when I told him what had happened, immediately dropped everything to provide a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
I owe a debt of thanks to the many friends in Scouting who have listened to me, got me out of the house or gone walking with me. It has shown me how important having people I feel able to talk to is and so I would encourage you to take an interest in those around you. If you are struggling with your mental health – talking about what you are going through with someone else isn’t a sign of weakness but can help to improve your mental wellbeing and help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same. It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots.
And if you think that someone you know is struggling with their mental health, remember that opening up to mental health is not always easy, but doing small things can make a big difference with one of the most important things that you can do is to be there when they feel able to talk.
It is also important that opening up about mental health is something that we promote to the young people in our groups and it is hugely encouraging that better mental health for all is one of our Million Hands themes and that SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) is one of the partners we are working with.
For those looking for an activity to do with their young people I would encourage you to look at this resource provided by The Scouts.