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Mental Health with the Listening Ears

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Searching for Elephants - Episode 11

Join Angus as he talks to 4 members of LifeSearch's Listening Ears team - Sarah Martin, Matthew Grantham, Bethan Jones, and Maxine Austin as they talk all things Mental Health, LifeSearch and how the two fit together.

In this in-depth conversation, they dive into how to better get a grasp of your thoughts, their personal history with the subject and why it is that LifeSearch needs The Listening Ears.

Please be aware some people may find some of the things that come up triggering if you do so our advice would be to contact your local GP.

Angus Baigrie - Have you got mobile phones, to record? 

Maxine Austin - I went into mine and I've got a recording on here from September 2013. And I was like, I don't ever remember recording anything. It's Marie and Judie rapping. And then I realized that it's actually convention 2013 It's a minute and a half long. And I was like, What is this? So that cheered me up no end.

Angus - Thank you MCs Julie O'Riley and Marie Bedding, some serious skills being shown off there. Today on Searching for Elephants, we're talking mental health. With one in four of us likely to experience problems with our mental health each year, it is vital that we have a system in place. At LifeSearch, we have something called the listening ears A Mental Health First Aid team set up to allow us to help our people. Our Listening Ears' have been so fantastic for the overall well being of LifeSearch. And so we share the idea in the hopes that others can do the same to help there people. The Listening Ears are being represented by four folks, Maxine Austin, Matthew Grantham, Beth Jones and Sarah Martin. Hey, everyone. First question, when did the Listening Ears start and what's its purpose.

Sarah Martin - So it started two years ago, this is actually nearly our two year anniversary

Angus - Congratulations.

Sarah - And I suppose it's a way of us being proactive with mental health, we've always got that first aid for the physical side of things. And I think it got to a point where it felt really important to make sure that we had first aid for the mental health side of things. And although what we do, I suppose is quite reactive, as in people come to us and let us know that they're in a moment of crisis or that they've got something that they wish to talk about. And it's a way of LifeSearch, kind of getting ahead and making sure that that facility is available, and that people can ask for help if they need it. And that they know that that hope is going to be of a certain level, I suppose. 

Angus - And what is that help? Mental health is is a pretty broad topic, especially at this point in 2021. Like, what are you guys therefore?

Matthew Grantham - For me, I guess it's just that kind of literally a listening ear, I think of any mental health or mental illness conversation, the important part is the talking part.

Sarah - And it could be anything from like someone's having a bad day, they just need to say it to someone, and they don't want to impact their teammates or whatever. But they want to have that opportunity to get it off their chest, to someone's having a moment of crisis.

Beth Jones - I've had conversations where people have been worried about a family member or a friend, they want to be a part of the helping team for the friend, but they don't know where to go. And sometimes it can be quite difficult. 

Maxine - I've had conversations recently, especially with lockdown, where Searchers approached me to talk to their children, sometimes they can get frustrated with mom and dad. So for the children to be able to talk to somebody completely independent and impartial, has been really helpful to some of our Searchers as well.

Beth - It could be things like financial worries as well, their partners or their family members might have had a loss of job or perhaps a furlough, which means that the you know, the money can be quite tight. 

Matthew - It's people's stuff isn't it's more the kind of the family and the friends and the loved ones. And I think people very much ignore the idea of professional help, because you don't want to admit that they've got a problem.

Beth - I think you've hit the nail on the head there, Matthew with the fact that people don't want to admit that they've got a problem. It's that that seems to be the most, the hindering part of anybody sort of getting help really is that is the fact that they don't think they should bother people or burden somebody they don't want to, you know, be a nuisance to people,

Sarah - all of us have commented at some point that people get in contact with us. And I'll just ask us how they are. And then it will turn out that actually there is something that we're able to brainstorm with them and help them to come up with some sort of resolution and to share resources with them. But they haven't come through to think I'm going to speak to a listening ear I have this issue. They're just kind of like drawn to you almost and then it turns out that there's more to this.

Angus - Yeah, absolutely. I'm quite struck by the idea that I don't have to have a high level problem to come talk to you guys. It can just be I spilled a cup of tea that myself today and I'm just feeling a bit crap.

Maxine - Yeah. Absolutely.

Matthew - It is those down day as well. I think it's really difficult to be level I think everyone's day goes up and down. And it's about talking about those downs. Of course, if there is an underlying condition there, you might have more down days, than up days, but it is definitely the small things as well as the big things because we have so much time in our own head and our head can produce that's not and without the ability to voice that something in your head, it makes things a whole lot worse.

Beth - It goes round and round. It's like the problem shared is a problem halved isn't it? That old saying.

Angus - It's an oldie but a goodie. And so when someone calls you up or comes in and has a chat with you, what happens after that?

Maxine - Depends on the reason they come to us in the first place. But I personally will always just check in on somebody, make it quite clear that the door is open, if they want to come back and talk to us, then we're always there. I suppose the individual needs to be a bit bit accountable for their actions and their own support. So we can signpost and tell them where they can get help and how to get help. And we can check in to see whether they followed that up. But we can't physically make them do those things. 

Sarah - We have to be careful not to counsel people as well. So although you might say, I'll find out how you are next week and whatever time and you'd stick to that time and make sure that they knew that they were important, but you're not having that catch up to counsel them or to continue the previous conversation. If anything, you might hold them accountable. But we're not there to physically counsel them. Because that can stop people from actually getting the professional help that they need.

Angus - You've both said accountable. What does that mean?

Maxine - We aren't counselors, what we don't want to do is give that kind of false support. So we can signpost to things like what life works to help an individual get the support that they need. But at the end of the day, they've got to take that responsibility on and get their own help. 

Sarah - It can also be like if they if there's an issue within work or within their personal life that they want to tackle, but they're not sure how to. It's starting those conversations with the right people and then maybe following up with us to let us know. But because they know that we're going to say okay, well let me know how that conversation goes. And we take an interest, it does kind of hold them accountable to make to make the change that's needed to make them feel better in the long run.

Matthew - Once you've had that conversation you can say, and it's not a set thing it's more of a, Oh, by the way, how are you getting on? And there's that kind of friendly, relaxed environment that allows them to be open, honest, no subject is off limits. And it's obviously confidential within that conversation.

Sarah - So when it when it comes to confidentiality, for example, Maxine has spoken to someone who she's a little bit concerned about not because she thinks they're going to harm themselves or anybody else. But just because she wants to talk through the situation with somebody else, to share her gut feeling and then see if everything feels right. She's given all the resources she can.It might be that she would speak to myself, for example, just so that we can brainstorm. And that's can be done without mentioning the name, the name doesn't necessarily needs to be mentioned. It might be that I have more information about the background for working with leaders anyway, which is sometimes helpful. But it's never done, Maxine wouldn't go and speak to anybody else about them. But obviously, we would also have to, we've got a duty of care to report if we feel like someone that is in personal harm, or if they're going to be harmed to somebody else. Yeah.

Angus - And you mentioned the the training that you guys have, what is that training?

Sarah - So it's Mental Health First Aid that we've completed, that we've all also completed suicide training, they've given us lots of tools that we can talk through with people. I know that Matthew, you use the bucket with the tap. What's that one?

Matthew - Yeah, so the stress container, I use it quite often to describe kind of life and the stress bucket container, whatever you want to call it is full of the Water is life. And once you are feeling symptoms of anxiety, stress, or depression, they come out on puddles, outside of the bucket. And to avoid that happening more you need to open your stress reliever or depression reliever, like a little tap on the end of the bucket to stop at overflowing. I think everyone, if they are suffering from mental illness, they want something to be relieved a little bit. And so that analogy should help them.

Maxine - The suicide training we did I found really useful. One of the key points that I took away from that was that it's actually okay to bring that subject up and challenge somebody and whether that's how they're feeling. Whereas it's something you kind of sort of before would think, do I say it? Or don't I say it or how is this person feeling? It's given me the confidence to be able to actually have those conversations with somebody that I'm concerned about.

Beth - Yeah, absolutely. Me too. I felt like that as well. Because it makes you feel a bit more empowered to be honest and open and say, you know, have you had those thoughts? Can I help?

Sarah - It's strange, because before that training, I've had a doctor asked me those questions. But the idea of me just Sarah Martin asking someone, Are you feeling suicidal? Like, have you got a plan, it just it wouldn't necessarily have occurred that I had the power to do that.

Beth - Or to sort of maybe even to pick up on that that subject might be a thought in somebody's mind. So

Matthew - Definitely invaluable training because I guess like I said earlier, it's a thought that often. comes across one's mind, no matter how small or big the intent is, and having that, that empowerment to have those discussions. Definitely.

Angus - Okay. So what made you all want to become listening ears?

Beth - I wanted to be a listening ear, but there was like a waiting list. So I was really privileged when I when I was invited to become a listening ear. And but yet back in 2015, I used the company red ark, which was our...

Angus - Sorry just quickly, what is red ark? And you mentioned another one as well, just before.

Sarah - life works, they're an early intervention scheme. So, if someone, if an individual needs a counselor, for example, they're able to provide very simplistic counseling, so they'd only do. If someone had a situation like a life event that happened, they'd help set up a number of counseling sessions to talk through that life event. But if it was a more serious in depth thing than you might speak to red ark or life works at first, but you'd be referred on to medical help through your GP or elsewhere.

Beth - Yeah, they were really good. In 2015, my partner was going through a bankruptcy. My daughter was self harming, and my son was going off to university. And the whole thing was just like a bit of a catalyst for me that I couldn't, so many things I was trying to control and help and sort out, but I just couldn't do it, basically. So my mental health took a nosedive. And but you know, I thought I didn't need counseling. I thought that wasn't for me. I've got friends, I talk to them. But I wasn't talking to them about the real issues about stuff because you wanna, I don't know, I think you want to protect your family and your friends from the real hard stuff that goes on perhaps or the real nitty gritty that you don't want to burden them with, you don't want them to go away and feel down because you've offloaded on them. So you know, you kind of skirt around subjects, you tell them a little bit. So they know what's going on and why you're down, but they don't know, perhaps the full in depth. And it was a really difficult time. I mean, the bankruptcy was one thing that financially, you know, what do you do? It was nothing else we could do, we had to take help with step change. But it wasn't me it was my partner and I had no control over it. And anyway, To cut a long story short, I eventually accepted the help that red arc and work were offering me and I had eight counseling sessions. And they were the best that was the best time of my life, to be honest with you, because she didn't really say much. It was me doing most of the talking as usual but as I was talking and saying the things that I daren't say to other people, real, real personal things that I've thought about, you know, and you think sometimes what's wrong and my thoughts, where do they come from, but because I was able to get them out and talk to her, I could see them for what they were. They weren't really real. They were they were they were fear that I brought up because I felt out of control. But but just by having that ability to talk about it and see it on the table clear as day I managed to sort of sort out the solutions I helped her with. And I asked her for help and mindfulness because I've never really heard of it. I didn't know what it was or how to go about it. Where do you even begin? So she got me some printouts and explained how it worked. And then she sort of gave me some other avenues to look at online on YouTube loads of places that you can go for free. Don't have to cost obviously I was couldn't afford anything at that time. So, you know, any free help was was really welcome. And but yeah, just having that ability to talk to her about things I'd never said before. And I really learned who I was and what made me tick and why I was struggling, and it was all about control. And now I realize I have to let that control go. I'm not here to manage everybody else's life I can I can only really do it for me. And so, for me, advocating counseling or listening ear to somebody else, absolutely do it. You'll never know until you pick up that phone or until you send that message from the listening ear box, but it really can change your life or your perspective on something even if it's just one conversation. It's definitely got to be worth it.

Matthew - Yeah definietly I guess for me, I've never I don't think I've ever well, I have of course suffered from anxiety, stress and depression through life. Sometimes it's just natural reaction to lots of things but not actually being diagnosed with anything. So I think my The reason I'm listening ear is because I really think mental health is really important. I think, it's easy to ignore mental health and a lot of people do, but it affects your life in so many ways. The mind is so powerful that I want to be able to help support knowing myself and others around me but others within the company to have that support because it's really important big part of your life, really mental health, it's,

Beth - well, everything.

Sarah - To be able to help someone in a moment of crisis or if they're feeling a bit vulnerable is such an honor. And if you're able to influence that in any sort of positive way, even if the help that they get is from professionals that they actually get that elsewhere, but it started with you. Yes. It's hugely rewarding as well as a challenging position to be. Yeah.

Beth - Yeah, it's very humbling, isn't it to think that somebody been vulnerable with you and like you say trusted you enough to lay themselves open and talk about things that are raw, which, you know, often we don't want to do, and they lock our door and go and hide on our own. Because for whatever reason, we're not we're shy of our emotions, we don't think we should be showing them we should be putting up and shutting up with things and just get on with it as probably, we've all been told to do in our, you know, in our time, stop making a fuss and just get on with what's you know, what's in front of you, and, but definitely doesn't have to be that way. And that's, that's the great thing about this company is in all aspects, you know, this we're so forward thinking and, and bringing, bringing this within the teams so that we can help each other I think is far more empowering them bringing outside agencies in I mean, I know we've got the the red arc or that the life works that we have now. But still is nothing better than knowing that your team members are there for you, it gives you even more that family feels that hashtag 25. You know, we care about each other,

Sarah - I have to say I had this similar experience where we had a bereavement as a family. And we were offered counseling as a standard thing. And we were kind of like, oh, we'll do it just to entertain it. But I haven't got anything to say. And when I got into that counseling session, I think I cried solidly for the first one, the second one you just verbalize things without even knowing that it's there to talk about. So sometimes even if you don't think it's definitely going to be the thing for you, it's worth trying it just in case, it's not going to have a negative impact by trying it. But it could hopefully have a positive impact. I mean, to a certain level each of the listening ears has either got a personal experience, or they've got a experience of someone who is close to them that's made it so that they want to carry on supporting others. For me, it was I've had a previously I had a chemical imbalance that I found really difficult to control. So I'd have really, really hyper moments where I didn't have much of a filter. And I felt quite embarrassed about myself right down to feeling very, very low. And there wasn't a lot of in between and getting the balance and having leadership I suppose helped me to get the right balance and to support me through that. And it it just makes it so that with the listening ears team there's that there's that somebody else I can go to I don't have to feel like a burden to a leader or anything like that. Not that that would be the case. But it's definitely something the support that I've received previously, I'd like to be able to do for somebody else.

Angus - So as best as you can. Can we have a go at describing what those low mental health moments feel like Sarah's just said she's, well she sounds like, a good crier. I am a terrible crier. I cannot cry. I barely ever cry. I wish I really wish I could sometimes.

Beth - For me, it was I didn't want to be here anymore. That was how I felt. I felt like I couldn't help anybody else. What's the point in me being here? I've obviously failed. Just wanna leave. Basically, that's how I was

Matthew - Such a common fault as well though isn't, it's in my opinion, we set such a high expectation of us as individuals, or what we should be what life should look like that when it doesn't go to that plan, or your plan. You just were like Oh I'm done then see ya. And it's, it's it's just a natural thing to think about what what I call the I love that this term thought distortions, anything like that, where you say to yourself, you know, I don't want to be here anymore, or I don't deserve this, or I'm not worthy of people's time, or love or money or whatever. They're the thought distortions I think are automatic.

Angus - I find as well for me, it's just the speed at which the thoughts occur in my head. It's just when I get into a kind of high anxiety state, it's just like, different thoughts bouncing across, I just have zero control of anything, it just everything's moving so fast that I can barely read the words on a page, because I'm just kind of zipping all over the place.

Beth - Yeah.

Sarah - There's grounding exercises that you can do when you're like that. And I think when you're in that moment, the last thing that occurs to you is to do a grounding exercise because your brain is going all over the place. And if you can have that little reminder to do a grounding exercise and potentially have someone to do it with you so that you don't feel silly once you realize it works. It becomes like almost a practice and it becomes an automatic thing.

Beth - Is that what you were telling me about tapping Sarah? Did you you mentioned about tapping, didn't you? 

Sarah - That's for panic attacks yeah, if someone's having a panic attack. There's there's tricks that you can use to be able to almost change your your brain reaction to it so that you can't panic any longer your brain concentrates on something else. And naturally you calm or you become distracted from the panic attack.

Angus - I guess that's why the fidget spinners. Yeah, remember those a couple years ago?

Beth - That's my son. Yeah, he's constantly spinning his phone, spinning a pen, anything just yeah.

Angus - If it works, it works. Sorry, I'm just going through my list. And Dalmatians are barking above me.

Beth - It's not Cruella de Ville? Is it? You're not living below her are you?

Angus - Beth I am Cruella de Ville. Do I not register as that?

Beth - You could, you could be.

Angus - Right ok cool, we're kind of reaching the end of our conversation when you guys have have had one of those days when the container is reaching capacity. How are you? How are you opening that tap?

Matthew - Small things like if you enjoy reading, read a book if you you know, want to relax, have a bath, if you want to drink just one glass of wine don't exceed. But if you want a glass of wine have a glass of wine, I think people I don't know why I guess this is my own personal opinion I do I want to do when I want to do it within Of course, the realms of be able to, I don't think people do that very often.

Beth - What you're saying, Matthew, I can I can understand how people feel that, especially when they've got children. And they've got other things that what they feel is more important than then they put everybody else before themselves. So then when they try and find five minutes, they've either got to get up super early, or they're awake super late. And that often doesn't help either. Because then they're trying to snatch pieces of time, it's always really important to say put a Do Not Disturb on the sign tell everybody in the house, this is my 10 minutes, don't come in here. You know, have your time and be really sort of demanding almost about it. You know, everybody else demands things of you. For you to be able to give anybody else anything, you've got to be full up in yourself. You've got to be from a place of nourishment. And that place of nourishment has to be like you say from what you like doing yourself.

Maxine - As part of the listening ears team. I think we use each other I know I certainly do. You know, especially if I've had a tricky conversation with another Searcher. Sometimes it's good just to kind of check in with one of the team to let go of how it's made me feel as well. And that's so important.

Beth - Yeah, yeah, I've got a routine of morning meditation and yoga, you probably all know this anyway, already. But that's what saved my life from 2015. And if I don't do it, I know about it. Because I can feel myself I don't want to talk to people. And like you say you don't have a shower, I can't be bothered with anything works a pain, everything's a pain. Soon as I get back on it, five minutes of meditation, 10 minutes or yoga, whatever it is, doesn't matter. That's what sort of puts me on the straight and narrow makes me feel grounded and more in control of what I'm doing. Because it could only ever be about what I'm doing anyway.

Matthew - Exactly I love that. And I guess, again, it falls on that expectation, isn't it, it's like what I should be doing is not nothing that I can do from only what other people can benefit from, and I do think is that realization of actually I am important, I am worthy and valued enough to give myself some love, even if it is just five minutes, because you can't give other people love and support they need if you don't have love as a part for yourself.

Angus - The ability to make yourself vulnerable is a strength. It's not a weakness, to take the deepest, darkest pits of your soul and verbalize them to a relative stranger is to be congratulated whenever, whenever, whenever it happens. Yeah, if you are strong enough to talk, then congratulations.

Beth - And you will be listened to

Angus - by the listening is the model of superiority. Cool. All right. Thank you so much, guys, this has been a really lovely chat. And before we go, the team was keen for me to tell you that if you work at LifeSearch and want the help of any one of the listening ears, there's a big old listening ears button on the intranet page, click away, fill in a few details. And they'll be in touch. But also if you want to email or IM them or whatever, then that's great to your conversation they assure me will be completely confidential. Unless you give that listening ear permission to talk about it with others. They really wanted me to be clear on that. And if you don't want to talk to anyone, but are still interested, there's lots of useful information on the listening ears website. And finally, if you don't work for LifeSearch well first of all well done for finding us. And if you have been affected in any way, shape, or form by this podcast, or the things said in it. Our advice would be to speak to your GP, or perhaps someone in your HR team at work, or failing those the Samaritans are there. There are so many great mental health charities out there, and they're all super happy to take your call. Alright, that's it, everyone. Thanks so much for listening, and I hope you all have very mentally healthy days, as ever all the music except for Marie and Judy's rap was composed by Patrick Baigrie. He also mixes the podcast and Searching for Elephants was created and edited by me Angus Baigrie Thanks so much, everyone. Have a good day.

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