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The Power of Communication in Mental Illness.

1 in 4 - that's how many people will at some stage in their life have a mental health illness. More recent reports claims it's actually 1 in 3. 

Whatever the figure actually is, you only have to look at your own circle of friends, family and acquaintances and you are likely to know someone who has a mental health illness or has taken their own life.

A recent Facebook post I saw discusses the rates of suicide or attempted suicide within the military. I know some of you will read that and correct my use of suicide or attempted suicide. I don't apologise for using the phrase and to be honest it matters not to those in crisis what "phrase" we use- I have checked and they don't care, it's the politicians who make a bigger deal about phrases than the actual people in crisis.

The simple fact is many people will, at some stage in their life, be in a place where they can't see a future, or a way out of the pain they currently find themselves in. Suicide isn't always linked to mental health illness but what I am going to suggest is the rational part of the brain isn't working and the emotional one is far stronger.

I have the privilege of working with a group of volunteers, all of them suffer with various forms of mental ill health. They work together as unpaid volunteers, to provide a support network for others with mental health illness. I meet them 5/6 times a year and all of them are at various stages in their lives, some days are better than others. But they have a purpose, an amazing sense of wanting to change perceptions. To dispel the myths and show others who they are and make a difference.

They have taught me and many others a great deal. I feel honoured and blessed to have been told their stories, their journeys to this point now and what they hope for the future.

You see I am lucky, I have been taught a skill. A skill which allows me to listen without judgement or prejudice. A skill which has to be practiced to keep it in working order. A skill whereby I can recognise my own emotions and when it really matters I can put me to one side and be with the other person, completely. 

Don't get me wrong I am not great at this skill all of the time, and it has to be practiced everyday where possible. It takes time and concentration and to be quite frank bloody hard work. But when you do, it can be the most powerful skill in the world, because it can change someone's behaviour, just in that moment, when they need you. It can unite people, create change, restore faith without even solving the problem. 

Wow it must be an amazing skill, I want it, people will say.

You already do, it's called communication and listening. 

You use it every day. Most of the time you don't even know you are using it and what you say are words that tumble from your mouth. Hardly any of us stop to practice on a day to day basis or think of the impact our communication will have on others. If statistics are to be believed the chances are you spoke to someone today who has a story you don't even know about. Perhaps right now they can't see a way through a problem. People will say, "if they had just spoken to me I could have helped". Don't wait to be spoken to, don't moan about someone who seems grumpy or short with you or walk past a colleague in the corridor who, when you give them the day to day pleasantries, says they're ok but doesn't look it.

Change something, yes we're all busy with email and text and work and running around, in fact most of us are too busy to even look up and notice other people let alone talk to them!!!

We all have the power to listen, you don't even have to understand or solve the problem; it's not your problem to solve anyway and most people have the answer they just can't see it right now. 

People matter, sharing matters, words matter.

The group I work with are called Hear Us. They are amazing, they will tell you as it is, no jargon or skirting round the issue. Through their Reach Out programme they teach others what it's like to live with mental illness and the impact other people's words have had on them, some good and others bad.

Take this week to practice your skills and make a difference in someone's life.

The Communication Coach

Riseley, Bedford MK44, UK

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