May is the month of both Dying Matters Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Week. While we acknowledge these important events every year, this year, of course, is quite different.
Are we closer to talking about death now that we are living through a global pandemic and faced with devastating figures every day? Are we more aware of our mental health now that we are separated from our friends and family? From the way we feel every day to drastic changes such as not being able to attend funerals and not scattering ashes once in a while, how is this all affecting us both now and in the months and years to come?
Awareness is key to helping ourselves and others, so let’s take a look at what both the Dying Matters and Mental Health Awareness campaigns can teach us.
Mental Health Awareness – #KindnessMatters
This year’s awareness week has been all about kindness. Here at Austin’s we are very community-focussed and have tried to do as much as we can to support others over recent weeks, including:
- Supporting ‘The Stevenage Community Food Bank’ by collecting donations of non-perishable food items at our head office for those struggling to feed themselves and their families during the pandemic.
- Delivering 1,500 face shields to funeral service colleagues throughout the UK thanks to Relton Herron of Avacare in Stevenage.
- Helping the ‘Stevenage Helps’ appeal to attract donations of over £30,000.
How can we all be kinder?
According to YouGov research carried out for ITV, people have been more concerned about their mental health since lockdown began, but 37% have got back in touch with old friends or family and 60% say they’re talking more often to family and friends on the phone than before the lockdown.
These are both really positive things to happen – and many acts of kindness have come out of lockdown too. You only have to take a brief look at social media to see lots of feel-good stories; from people delivering home-cooked meals to neighbours, to Colonel Tom raising millions for the NHS!
Research on the Mental Health Awareness Week website says that “kindness can help reduce stress and improve our emotional wellbeing.” It really does have genuine health benefits. They also say “kindness is choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings.”
Here are some of our favourite ideas on how to show kindness. You can get more inspiration at mentalhealth.org.uk…
- Volunteer for a local community organisation - charities are crying out for a helping hand right now, from support with online fundraisers to collecting donations from the local community
- Check in safely with a neighbour who is isolated or shielding
- See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories by video, for example
- Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects - if you’ve got to know your neighbours better during the Thursday night ‘clap for carers’ then why not get together and make a difference where you live?
- Post a card or letter to someone you are out of touch with – a handwritten note can make someone’s day
- Smile and say hello to people you may pass every day, but have never spoken to – social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t still interact with people (at a safe distance!)
Dying Matters – #DyingtobeHeard
How can we talk about death more openly, but also make sure we are listening to others? This year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week theme was ‘Dying To Be Heard’. In other words, how many people want to talk about death, but feel they have no one to talk to about it?
Hospice UK recently released new research findings, showing that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% said that one of the top three most useful things someone could do was to just sit and listen to them.
The fact that we are connecting with people more during lockdown is a good start – but active listening is key. It’s important to ask the other person, ‘what’s important to you?’
How can we become better listeners?
Here are some tips from dyingmatters.org on how to be a good listener :
- Let them know you want to listen – there will probably be a lot going on in the mind of the person speaking, let them know it’s ok to think things through and take their time.
- Don’t try to be the expert – you don’t need to have answers to their questions – in fact, they’ll probably prefer it if you don’t! Nine times out of 10 they just want to unload their thoughts.
- Don’t try and steer the conversation – let them work through things in their own way.
- Do pay attention – it’s really obvious, and off-putting, when the person you are confiding in has their mind elsewhere.
- Practise your own self care – some of what they say might be upsetting for you to hear. Make sure you have some means to process everything afterwards and have someone to listen to you too.