Offer rather than don't offer
The pandemic has brought isolation for many. Are there people we can reach out to now - for the good of their mental health? If you are worried that you might do more harm than good, please be reassured that this is not the case. There are some things to remember, but it is far better to offer gently rather than the recipient be lacking any kind of offer at all.
A welcoming society
I watched the Paddington movies again recently and you may remember that Paddington sets off from Darkest Peru to London based on an explorer's recollection of how evacuee children we given hospitality during World War Two. Paddington arrives in London expecting it to be easy to find a home but is quickly disappointed. When he does find the explorer's nearest living relative, they try to turn him into a stuffed exhibit in a museum. Luckily for Paddington, the Brown family is there to welcome him in. There is a degree of chaos involved - which all makes for a good film - but the older Mrs Brown puts it well: 'This family needs that bear just as much as he needs a home."
Welcoming in Paddington was good for the Brown family - it drew them together, it made them young at heart again, it gave them purpose. When we offer hospitality, it is as much for our own sake as for those who receive it. The Christian gospel is one of Good News and this needs to be practical as well as theological. If we only speak with those like us, then we run the risk of creating a right mess. As Luis Palau once said, “The church is like manure. Pile it up, and it stinks up the neighbourhood. Spread it out, and it enriches the world.”
The Mental Health Foundation has highlighted loneliness as a problem for millions during the pandemic affecting up to 25% of us [read more]. They offer some helpful ideas, but the key message is to do something. Reach out, share, involve, connect. People can always say no.
How to welcome when there are mental health concerns
People have valid concerns when thinking about reaching out to someone who might be depressed or anxious. They are concerned they will make things worse or won't know what to say. However, please be assured that these concerns are largely unfounded. Asking about suicidal ideas doesn't make suicidal acts more likely. Offering something is better than offering nothing - which can make the person feel even more lonely as a result.
However, there are some things to bear in mind:
Consider how well you know someone. If you know someone well then you can offer more ['I've not seen you for a while - can I come and visit?]- but if it is a stranger or someone you don't know well, then a more neutral offer might be more acceptable ['I'm driving to the shops - can I give you a lift?'].
Offer once, maybe twice, but don't intrude. This is also affected by how well you know someone. If many of us make occasional offers then this will cover many people. Please don't try to 'rescue' people.
There are some things not to say. In this article, we have listed some of them - by writing what was intended but then how it can often come across - and then a better way to phrase it.
Who can you reach out to today?
Time to Talk
Thursday 3rd Feb 2022 is 'Time to Talk' Day when we are encouraged to talk to someone about their mental wellbeing. Their website gives lots of good resources and tips
as well as and social media links to help.