This year has been incredibly challenging for many people, including those (like myself) who have been lucky enough to not have suffered from mental illness or be struck by bouts of bad mental health in the past.
The events of 2020 have exacerbated emotions that I could usually keep in check: anxiety about the future, despair about the state of the world, guilt about my privilege, and a niggling feeling that I was “wasting” my life – working in a job that neither truly helped others, not gave me the opportunities I’d hoped for. What happened to the dreams I’d had at 18?
Throughout these moments of internal unrest, there have been a few things that have kept me grounded. Beyond the obvious (exercise, sleep, staying connected) I also happened to begin volunteering at a support chat line for young people in February and completed my training just before lockdown started in March.
As a volunteer, I spend at least one evening a week taking online chats and answering emails from young people struggling with their own mental health, or looking for advice to help them face troubles in their life.
Even in the microcosm of my online shifts, the effects of the disruption to our lives has been palpable: chats surged in the first lockdown and eased when measures were loosened. More recently, since universities went back, the number of students we’ve had calling in looking for emotional support to help handle their feelings of isolation, hopelessness and anger, has been staggering.
As an emotionally expressive person, I’ve always dealt with challenges in my life by talking things through with those close to me, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by friends and family that are willing to listen. Offering emotional support to those that don’t have a support network, or are unable to easily talk about their feelings, is a tiny way that I can give back, and personally one that I’m very thankful to have found this year.
It’s well known that spending time helping others (whether friends or strangers) can make you feel better in yourself, but is often deprioritised with the excuse that life got in the way. I harbour hope that the upheaval to our usual pace of life, combined with a realisation that helping others can also be a means to help yourself, might lead to a more supportive society in a post Covid world.