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More than ever before, it really is ‘OK not to be OK’

Leigh Carey, CEO of the Hummingbird Project and a mental health expert with lived experience of mental ill health, talks about the importance of personal resilience and need to develop an ‘emotional toolkit’ during difficult times


Find something that brings you joy, such as dancing

Find something that brings you joy, such as dancing

Getty Images/Westend61

Find something that brings you joy, such as dancing

Before lockdown, did we appreciate the value of everyday things? Did we take going to a restaurant, meeting a friend, going on holiday for granted?

Did we appreciate how much the simple things in life provided us with purpose, the ability to socialise and keep our minds active and engaged?

The disruption to routine and the restrictions of having to negotiate our way through an ongoing global health crisis means more of us are now acquainted with anxiety.

No-one has escaped the shifting sands, the changing rules, the ebb and flow of new variants, the nervousness, the struggle of what we should or shouldn’t do, the loneliness, the isolation.

Disruption to our regular routines and rituals means feelings of fear and uncertainty are now common place.

For the last decade, the conversation on reducing the stigma around mental health has come a long way.

A benefit of the pandemic has been an improved context for discussions around the importance of good mental health with more people coming forward to talk about and seeking help for their emotional struggles.

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More than ever before, it really is ‘OK not to be OK,’ but I believe that needs to go one step further.

The Hummingbird Project in Portstewart is an emotional wellbeing organisation supporting people throughout NI.

Our work is unique in that we combine years of training and practical experience working with those with mental health issues along with our own lived experience.

Each of us have experienced poor emotional health, are in recovery and work hard every day to ensure our emotional health is nurtured in and outside of work.

That means our approach to emotional wellbeing is different to other talking therapy organisations because we know lived experience really does help remove barriers and perceptions around stigma.

Our core belief is that solutions belong to the client. Our role is to understand their circumstances, unlock knowledge, help them set new goals and provide support to achieve them.

People have been working on their physical health for decades; how to eat better, exercise more. It’s time to do the same for our mental and emotional health. You don’t have to accept you are not OK and just sit there.

We must ask, what are we going to do about it? Mental health should not be seen as a negative state, just a part of us that is in a constant state of flux and change, and it is something we have control over.

Everyone’s circumstances are different. Each of us have our own knowledge, barriers and strengths that require us to develop our own unique emotional tool kit. I’m talking about a resource we can each build on and reach for to keep us emotionally well when life and Covid happens. There is a lot you can do to learn, plan and get help to restore hope and control when the going gets tough.

Here are some principles that can massively improve resilience including when it might be time to bring in some external support. Some I use include:

Purpose — Why do I get out of bed every day? What allows me to feel like my day has been well spent? This can be task or person orientated — like doing a job that brings satisfaction and financial stability, getting my daughter out to school, keeping the house tidy, spending time with my husband.

Control — What are the elements of my life I can control and what do I need more help with? Simple things like getting out of bed, taking a bath, what to wear, eat or who I speak to.

Very often it’s the most complex, difficult stressors that people have no control over, like sickness, loss and money. Think, what do I need to have more power in this situation? Is it time? Knowledge? Expert support? Medical intervention? Seeking those things out for yourself or asking someone to help can be one of the most empowering things you do.

Joy — Who makes you smile, distracts you from life’s difficulties? For me it’s loud music, kitchen dancing, spending time with people who want me to be happy and secure, mini breaks and old films.

Support — List your go-to people for advice. Find out what is available in the community to bring you peace of mind.

My backup team can range from my husband, work colleagues, friends, family, GP, work networks and community groups. There are things every person can do to improve and protect their mental health. What that looks like always starts with you.

For more about the Hummingbird Project visit www.thehummingbirdproject.org.uk

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