The Pandemic: Vulnerable Groups

No surprise, really, that 2020 had one more disappointment – or challenge – for us before it shuffled off into Christmas past. I’m writing this after much of Southern England has gone into the new Tier 4 with only 8 hours notice and only five days before Christmas.

Of course, we will all do what is necessary to keep one another safe, and we are all happy to sacrifice one Christmas for the good of the many. No one is questioning that.


However, as I posted earlier in the year, we might all be on the same stormy sea, but we are definitely not in the same boat; we are all weathering this in very different boats: https://www.instagram.com/p/CHFc8MxBmLu/


In today’s blog, therefore, I wanted to draw attention to some of those more vulnerable groups, and give you some tips on how to support them as we enter the last stages of what has been an unpredictable and surreal year.



Men:


Some of you may have seen an article in The Guardian recently which reported that the suicide rate for men in 2019 was the highest since the millennium, according to The Office of National Statistics. In my own experience of working with men, it’s still important for them to be seen as the ‘provider’ in the family, to have purpose and status, and to be the person who can ‘fix’ something. The expectations men can put upon themselves can make them vulnerable to suicide and self harm in a pandemic, since being made redundant or being put on furlough can evoke feelings of failure. Pile on top of that the fact that, stereotypically, men aren’t brought up to talk about their emotions as much as women are, and you’ve got an individual who becomes ‘locked in’. According to the Samaritans, the unenviable status of having the highest suicide rate goes to men aged between 45 and 49; the very men who would have grown up in the 70s and 80s during a time when gender roles were still very much binary and when their role models were ‘tough’ men.


Walk & talk: men often prefer a more informal situation for talking through any problems they may be facing, as opposed to the more traditional counselling set up. Walk and talk therapy enables the client to walk with a therapist, side by side, in the open air, still providing the confidentiality and privacy central to the counselling experience, but with the added bonus of it feeling less confrontational. For more on walk & talk therapy, have a look at Jonathan Hoban's rather gorgeous website: https://jonathanhoban.com/walking-therapy-training ,or contact Be at Blue Cloud Walking: https://www.facebook.com/BlueCloudWalking/


Normalise: in my experience of working with men in my counselling practice, they often don’t talk about their problems with their male friends as openly as women do with theirs. Two of my male clients have had real breakthroughs when they’ve opened up about their struggles and experiences to their network: one, realising noone in his friendship group or family knew how he felt, decided to reveal to them what was going on. As a result, he was able to connect more deeply with certain people in his network, even meeting up regularly with one male friend who’d been going through something similar and could offer advice. Another chose to share his experience of childhood trauma on social media; as a result, he received messages of support and admiration. Perhaps, what was more key for both of them, was the realisation that they were not alone. No man is an island, so check with your male friends, because, quite often, they are still trying to live up to an out-dated and oppressive idea of what a ‘man’ is.



Teenagers & 20-Somethings:


If I had a time machine, there’s no way ON THIS EARTH I’d use it to go back to my teens or early twenties! It’s normal for our teenage years to be full of angst and stress; after all, it’s when we, naturally, start to gain independence from our parents and caregivers and when our responsibilities and stressors begin to increase. 50% of mental illnesses start to become apparent in adolescence; three quarters by the age of 24. Issues, such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse peak at 14.


You’d have to have been living under a rock not to know that the pandemic has added extra stresses to this year’s younger generations. Our teens are experiencing untold stress from the exam chaos created by school closures; especially since the goalposts are constantly changing as to which set of results will be used as their final grades in 2021. They’ve also been isolated from their usual routines and from their friends, with whom they’d normally be sharing their problems and gaining support.


For twenty-somethings, they are a generation, either, finishing uni in isolation, or starting new jobs in circumstances that mean their co-workers are icons on a screen. For others, it might even mean that their entire career has vanished overnight.


Normalise: if you can recall being a teenager or a twenty-something, then you will recall the drama that naturally came with that age. EVERYTHING feels big. EVERYTHING feels like the end of the world. It’s difficult to have perspective when you’ve only been alive for 728 weeks, and it’s difficult to know what’s normal and what isn’t when everything is new for you. For teens and twenty-somethings, the best thing you can do is to listen without judgement; they already feel awkward about EVERYTHING, so don’t make that embarrassment worse by ridiculing their fashion sense, dismissing their interests and making them feel that their natural desire to experiment is a crime. Share with them some of the stories of when you were young to help them normalise their experience.


Journaling: young people aren’t just learning how to plan for their future career, and reconcile their minds with their bodies (and their hormones), but they are also learning how to cope with a barrage of complex emotions. We’re not born knowing how to handle all the emotions we experience, just like we’re not born knowing how to drive a car. We learn to deal with our emotions by watching our role models dealing with theirs; we learn via what’s modelled to us by our care-givers. Teenagers naturally go underground with their feelings and may stop sharing them with you directly, so it helps to get them into the habit of journaling so they can learn to express, reflect and think through challenging emotional events. As a teenager, I wrote pretty much everything down - as observations, as poems, as ideas for plays and novels - and I'm convinced it helped me to cultivate emotional agility and reduce the possibility of mental illness. I've heard great things about Bullet Journals: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a25940356/what-is-a-bullet-journal/


Flexibility: flexibility isn’t always something that comes naturally to young people; after all, their security comes from fitting in with their peers rather than from standing out. However, flexibility is a skill that ought to be taught from a young age because it fosters resilience. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem 'If' -, 'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster; / And treat those two imposters just the same.' If you want to read the full poem, follow the link below; it's a good study in resilience: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46473/if--- If we can, as Kipling suggests, teach our young people how to experiment, how to brainstorm, how to approach things from different angles, then we teach them how to cope with mistakes and failures as if they were successes.





Front Line Workers:


Imagine what it’s like to read the newspaper headlines in the morning and see the words ‘Covid has made heroes of many of our frontline workers….but not teachers.’ (The Sun) Just, for a moment, imagine how it would feel reading that after being in a classroom all day with thirty potential Covid-carrying kids; imagine how it would feel reading that after you’ve had to completely change the way you teach so your teaching can be done online; imagine what it would feel like reading that when you’re told, on the day you finish for the Christmas holidays, that you’re going to be responsible for organising Covid testing for your school when you get back in January. If your imagination is any good, my guess is you’ll feel like sh*t, which is what a lot of teaching professionals felt like seeing trash such as this written about them day in-day out.


Other front line workers have been graced with kinder headlines, and even some clapping, and, unless you work for Morrisons, they’ve even been given an extra day off over Christma