Empathy is a Superskill that take time to Recharge

 On the surface, sympathy seems helpful. The problem with sympathy is that while it acknowledges the hard times someone is facing, it doesn't offer them any support whether be a listening ear or something practical. 

If sympathy is looking into the pit of depression or grief and saying "Sorry", then empathy is climbing in and saying "I'm here for you. We'll get out together".

"I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this, when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathise with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers; it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help."
- Barrack Obama - 2006

The problem with sharing someone's pain is that it will drain you. To give you an example, if someone is constantly demanding empathy from you yet dismisses your thoughts and feelings then you don't have the foundation of an equal or healthy friendship or relationship. It is possible to burn out from empathy especially if your job or role involves listening to and support people- whether you are an aid worker, a Doctor, a teacher or a therapist.  

Interestingly, Scientists have documented empathy in toddlers who showed concern for a parent - yet showing concern for another's wellbeing is often something that has to be taught or reinforced for some older children (and adults!). Empathy is something we can call do but it takes thought and effort to create a real rapport and put yourself into their metaphorical shoes.

I'll share with you a problem and see if you can use empathy while reading it. Think about what you would if we were sat next to each other. What could you say to share the problem rather than just observe it and sympathize with it?

There is a person I want to be part of my life yet the care and concern for this person and their antics can be draining to the point of frustration. Their silence in the communication can make people feel unwanted or perhaps just that they lack the care and energy to bother with anyone but themselves. Maybe they are selfish. An event happened recently, with plenty of warning, that was very important - or maybe I just felt it was important. While others made the effort, this person was no show. This person has missed or avoided or not bothered with several other events in the recent past without a message or post-event apology. A relationship should be two-way but if they don't care or can't be bothered; maybe I can't be bothered anymore either.

If you read that and your internal voice was saying "Oh I'm sorry, there's plenty more fish in the sea"; then you were sympathizing. While your thoughts on other fish/friends are true, it doesn't share the pain and make that connection. If your reply was "I can feel how angry and how sad it feels. I'm here." then you were empathizing. 

It's not easy. Much as it isn't easy to give up and cut loose someone who doesn't give equally to a friendship. Perhaps this part is even harder: you have to make a concerted effort to look after yourself so you can recharge your empathetic battery. If you are worn down and clobbered, then you won't have the emotional gusto to support yourself or give to those friendships and relationships around you.

If you'd like to read more on empathy, have a look at this fab article: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/EmpathyatWork.htm


My cup doth overflow! Stress Containers at Chateau Streuli

 The last month or so has flown by. Mrs Streuli and I have moved house and thanks to a very supportive family are about to rent out our little one bed flat. In the meantime, we have some rather good news to share.

Baby Streuli will be coming to cause chaos in May 2021!

The anxiety that Lockdown 2, Baby and house move all in the same short time period has been huge. At the same time, we've been working full time and I've been doing a training course to become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor. The nightmares about missing or unfinished homework have returned!

But as we head toward December, I look back at the chaos of those weeks. Is Mrs Streuli safe at work? Are we keeping ourselves safe without shutting out the world?

In MHFA (Mental Health First Aid) we talk about Stress Containers. Everyone has a different size and shaped container. What is stressful for one, might be routine for another. Working lots of a night shifts or having a rapidly changing routine is like a stress tank shrinking and bulging. 

At the bottom of your container is a tap. Sometimes that tap can get clogged and the stress keeps piling up until you explode. Other times, you have the safe coping strategies or working skills to keep your tap flowing and your stress manageable. Sometimes just talking it through with someone, like I do with Mrs Streuli, can keep that tap flowing freely. You have the power to unclog your tap. 

What useful strategies do you use? Yoga? A jog? Writing? Dancing? Film Night? 

Sometimes you can control the flow into your stress containers. Sometimes, life happens all at once.

One last thing you can do to help other people with their stress containers - is for you be safe this Christmas.

Why become a Mental Health First Aider? - Suicide Prevention Month

Making time to take care of yourself can be hard. During lockdown, it felt like life was in a loop of work, home, work, home, work, home. By the time you get home, you just want to crash in front of easy watching TV. I have the same issue with writing my blog. I feel so much better for doing this but it does take time and effort like all self care does.
For many parts of the world September is Suicide Prevention Month however organisations big and small come together with the WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention to mark 10th September as World Suicide Prevention Day.
Globally, over 800,000 suicides are reported and there are many more which either go unreported or don't fit the criteia for suicide in the death certificate of a country. As I type this the Office for National Statistics has released the latest data with headlines following the common theme of "Male Suicide at highest rate in 20 years". 
Occasionally I go back through my blog to revisit my posts. They mark how I felt and thought as different stages of my mental health journey but they also indicate how far we have come as a society. One of the posts I am most proud of, conveniently for World Suicide Prevention Day 2016, was written by one of my closest friends and her view of not only my struggles but also of her Grandfather. It is a powerful read you can find here.
Stigma was an incredible oppressive force when my mental health was at its worst. I can clearly remember how liberating being suicidal was - I could speak out because I had literally nothing to lose. It was that with the right support from friends, family and the NHS that supported my recovery - something which I'm proud my blog has recorded.Suicide can be a difficult subject to approach but once you cross the threshold with compassion and honesty, its a stigma that seem ridiculous. 
Tweet from Prof Appleby: clinician & Gov adviser on suicide
Tweet from Prof Appleby: clinician & Gov adviser on suicide

Recently, thanks to the NHS Trust I work for, I attended a two day course and qualified as a Mental Health First Aider.  Why would any employer want a Mental Health First Aider? It's another cost
In a previous post we've discussed the business case for taking the mental health battle head on. In that post we discussed how research by Soma showed the businesses that record and track mental health make up to three times of the profits compared to ignorant competitors. In that post we also discovered how every 80p of investment in prevention and support for mental health and well-being at work saves £4 in costs whether that is sickness, loss of business or, as my case showed, legal fees. In the end, I argued that with the potential saving of £9 billion per year to the UK economy, that businesses big and small couldn't afford not to invest in mental health and well being of their staff and customers. 

The course is written by MHFA England who are working with the aim that by having more and more Mental Health First Aiders in businesses and organisations that stigma can be more routinely battled and that awareness raised more often. It also hopes that earlier intervention can be made for those needing support and prevent staff, friends and family reaching crisis - like I did in 2015.
To start with I did have to confront some anxiety. Would this course be upsetting? Would it stir and prevoke feelings I don't want? Would the people there be tolerant of me? 

In hindsight, I shouldn't have worried but anxiety can be pair of concrete boots in the murky canal of life if you are unable to push through with useful healthy coping mechanisms. In my example, I tried to imagine some of the content like icebreakers and discussions of suicide and think about how much I was comfortable to share or say.

It always amazes me how little is said about mental health and yet, when the tap is opened and that awkward threshold is crossed, everyone has some experience. Whether it is friend, a relative or a patient or customer. When you begin to realise how much mental health has touched every person, you begin to realise how few people will judge you in a negative way. 

The role of being a Mental Health First Aider isn't to solve every problem or become Counsellor Deanna Troy of your organisation; in the same way your First Aider isn't your organisation's Paramedic or Dr Beverly Crusher. It's more about having someone ready to listen and offer a signpost whether it be to a manager, to ACAS, to a union, to the GP, to a local support group or in times of crisis to the emergency services. The problem doesn't have to be a psychotic episode but it can be. It can be helping someone after a nasty call or offering a calming cup of tea after the loss of a loved one.

Helping another person, even if its just listening, can be incredibly rewarding. In fact, you can save a life.

If you are interested in becoming a Mental Health First Aider, email your HR department today or have a look at https://mhfaengland.org/