I will never forget that as a teenager, I walked past a lady who used to work at the local fish and chip shop. She looked low and quite down, but being in a hurry I walked on, after our quick exchange of "hello...". I reflected on it afterwards, because she had lingered in her gaze, and I felt she had wanted to say something. A few days later, I heard that she had ended her life. I was devastated, and felt somehow responsible. It became one of the reasons I studied to pursue a career in Psychology.
Of course it was not my fault. But this lady had clearly lacked a space where she could share her burdens, and felt very alone. With more online support and telephone help, such as the Samaritans, I would hope that nobody ever feels so alone in today's day and age. A trouble shared, really is a trouble halved. Yet, loneliness and depression still prevails - one in four adults likely to be impacted, at some point in their lives.
When we are physically ill or injured, the symptoms are readily recognisable. However, mental health is often hidden - we may look ok on the outside, and go about our day to day tasks, but there can be an unmistakable fragility on the inside. It's only through close and caring relationships, that the concerns come to the forefront. For this, there is a need for trust.
Yet we have become so good at hiding our feelings, that sometimes we fool ourselves! People ask, "how are you today?" in that usual social greeting, and without even thinking, the immediate response is, "I'm fine, thanks...how are you?" This bouncing back of social platitudes makes us feel connected to one another, but we are no less alone than before.
Coming back to my teenage experience, when was the last time we really enquired as to how someone is? I mean genuinely took the time to talk, catch up and be interested in what is going on in someone's life? This kind of conversation might seem intrusive, but if you care about someone, it can also be experienced as intimate. We can't be intimate without at the same time allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable. It's a risk worth taking with people we consider friends, as intimacy is often repaid - we get to know about them more deeply, too.
I've learned we need to take the time - our task list is not so important, that we have to rush past each other. Connect, look, smile, ask, share. We are social beings, and behind the masks we often wear there are a host of feelings, impulses and needs. The primal among them is to belong, to feel loved and to have someone to care for.
We can behave in ways that invite closeness. We can be the person who reaches out with their heart. We also need to give ourselves permission to be loved and cherished, in our own right. It is easier said than done, but if we all add to the process in our own small way, nothing is impossible to achieve.
Dr Bobby Sura BSc Hons, PG Dip, DClinPsy, CPsychol
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 13yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Dr Sura is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT).