Words: Mark Smith
When I was at my lowest point, a stranger wrote me a letter
A few years ago I experienced a dark patch – not a bad day, week or troublesome month, but something far longer term and more significant, something that changed my outlook forever. I’ve heard it called many things; depression, anxiety, a ‘breakdown’ – all words that even now make me shudder with unease. I have never spoken openly about this period of my life to anyone outside of my immediate family and a couple of close friends at the time, so why am I doing so now?
Firstly, last couple of years have been a real turning point when it comes to understanding and acceptance of mental health, both within the ad industry and society at large. Sure, we still have a long way to go, but I think what has really changed is the level of honesty we are seeing from people in positions of power, with those in the worlds of business, politics and celebrity being open about their struggles. Their stories continue to inspire many of us.
Secondly, I am older, wiser and more comfortable with myself – I have a great family and a close-knit group of friends to support me. I am also extremely fortunate to be working with a formidable team across Clear Channel who never fail to astound me with their openness, support and kindness. Not everyone is this lucky.
And finally, I feel the need to pay something forward – this has become even more prevalent over recent weeks as we’ve all been adapting to a very different way of life both physically and emotionally.
When I was at my lowest point, a stranger wrote me a letter. The husband of one of my wife’s work friends had heard about what I was going through. I remember to this day my wife handing me the envelope. My initial reaction was one of anger, embarrassment and indifference. I was cross that my wife had felt it necessary to confide in a friend about how I was feeling and ashamed about others knowing my situation. How could someone I had never met could possibly understand how I was feeling when my own family couldn’t fully comprehend it? Reluctantly, I opened the letter…
It was from a chap named Ray. In his early forties Ray had experienced the ‘dark patch’. At that time, he was a husband and father, trying to hold down a demanding job; juggling the pressures of providing for his family whilst climbing the career ladder. Over a prolonged period, these relentless pressures had become too much to bear and had taken a toll on his mental wellbeing. Ray went on talk about he got himself on the road to recovery, reflecting that while much of this came down to the personal acceptance that he needed help, it was the support of others both personally and professionally that had played a crucial role in him coming out the other side. Most reassuringly, he even highlighted practical ways in which he continued to look after his mental health to that day.
To say that Ray’s letter resonated with me is an understatement – to hear from someone who had not only been in the same scenario as me but manage to come back from it and really learn from the experience was hugely reassuring. His letter and his wise words had made all the difference. The next day and over the following weeks & months, I slowly but surely started acting on his advice and got the support I needed to build myself back up.
A year or so later, I got to meet Ray and was able to thank him in person for his act of kindness.
So why am I telling you this? Well as many of you will be aware, today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and funnily enough this year’s theme is around that very thing – kindness.
One thing that we have seen all over the world is that kindness is prevailing in these uncertain times. We have learnt that amid the fear, there is also community, support and hope. The added benefit of helping others is that it is good for our own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing.
How can I get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week?
The Mental Health Foundation want to get the nation talking about kindness and mental health. During the week, they are calling people across the UK to carry out or reflect on an act of kindness. Take a photo or video (with permission!) and use the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and share on social media. You can also share your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health using the same hashtags above.
If you’d like a bit of inspiration on how you can make a difference go to https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ where you’ll find some simple tips of how you can stay connected with friends & family, help others in the community or lend a supportive ear to colleagues in the workplace. Arranging a simple virtual coffee or giving praise to others can be enough to help people open up and lift spirits – it really is that simple!
Remember – you could make all the difference to someone who is not feeling themselves right now…. like Ray did for me!