Let's talk about mental health: an interview with Jo from SANE

by Maja Bayyoud on

We’ve partnered with London-based mental health charity SANE to donate 10% of every order from the Charlotte Garnett x Motley collection to support their vital work. Orders from the collection have raised an amazing £2,200 so far, supporting SANE at a time when mental health is more important than ever. We asked Jo Christophi from SANE some questions about their inspiring programmes, beating the lockdown blues and coping with stress or anxiety. 

 Tell us a bit about SANE’s main areas of work. 

SANE is a leading UK mental health charity set up in 1986 to improve the quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness.  It aims to raise awareness and understanding of all mental health conditions; fight to improve frontline mental health services for individuals and carers; promote and host research into the causes and more effective treatments for mental illness at its flagship Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research and provide support, information and guidance through its helpline SANEline, Caller Care service, Textcare and Online Forum.

It's an amazing place to work too! I’m very grateful to be surrounded by wonderful people who are so passionate about mental health and want to make a real difference. 

SANE’s Creative Awards Scheme brings to light how artistic expression can be instrumental to mental health. Do you think we need to carve out more space for creative expression?

The overwhelming response to the first round of our Creative Awards Scheme showed what a thirst there is for a means of fulfilling creative potential. Our scheme encourages people to translate their experience into creative expression, and we have been incredibly moved by both the talent and stories that people have shared. Because of its importance for mental health, opportunities should be provided for creative expression of all kinds, through such initiatives as the government’s social prescribing scheme. 

Charlotte’s collection for Motley draws on her own struggles with mental health, and it’s resonated with hundreds for that reason. What role does sharing personal perspectives and experiences play in raising awareness of mental health difficulties? 

The candour with which so many people in the public eye have spoken about their own mental health struggles in recent years has certainly improved public understanding and helped to reduce the stigma that so many people with mental illness battle with. 

Understanding that you are not alone and that others have been through similar experiences can be enormously helpful for people trying to plot their route back to recovery. But we should remember that the decision about what to disclose and to whom is entirely up to the individual. 

Can you tell us about SANE’s Black Dog Campaign? 

The Black Dog has been used from classical mythology through medieval folklore to modern times as a universal metaphor for depression. Sir Winston Churchill famously used it to describe his darker moods. It forms the basis for our campaign to raise awareness of depression and other mental illnesses, and encourage people to seek help.

The campaign aims to help people to find a more accessible language to describe invisible feelings of anxiety, loneliness or despair, which they may be fearful or embarrassed to express.

Our imposing Black Dog statues are placed in business foyers, public parks, hospitals and shopping centres throughout the UK. The pack of working dogs have journeyed many thousands of miles, and they have proven to be particularly popular during tours of schools and universities. You can see some of the statues here www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/black_dog/

Raising awareness alone is not enough. The statues wear coats designed by artists, celebrities and members of the public, and stand on a plinth giving people immediate sources of help such as our own helpline number and any local sources of counselling or support. 

By encapsulating mental illness through the physical manifestation of the Black Dog, we enable people to visualise just how powerful, dominating and unpredictable it can be, whilst simultaneously affording them hope: dogs, like mental health conditions, can be tamed. 

There is a lot of pressure on people to ‘make the most of their time in isolation’ to get physical, pursue hobbies or self-improve. How can those with mental health difficulties best cope with those pressures? 

It is a challenge for anyone to be told that others are coping better, or achieving more during the lockdown. This is all the more true if you have a mental health problem. 

The trap that we can all fall into is to make comparisons with others that are unfair to ourselves. The secret is to only compare your achievements with where you were yesterday, and to treat yourself as charitably as you treat those people you care about. 

Setting yourself realistic goals is a good sign of mental health, so if you want to exercise more, or eat better, or learn a new skill, be honest with yourself about where you are starting from and resist the temptation to compare yourself to others.  

What can we do to support friends and family who are self-isolating alone and struggling with loneliness?

Sometimes it is enough to simply send a message that you are there for someone you care about or are worried for. That is especially true when seeking to contact friends and loved ones who may be struggling with mental ill-health during the lockdown. 

Try to think about what medium might be most appropriate. Phone calls, text messages, hand-delivered or sent mail do not require smart phones of internet connections, which may not be available to people who are elderly or who have long-term mental health problems. 

Most importantly, be brave enough to persevere even if you do not get a reply. Human contact in any form offers a lifeline, so offer it in hope rather than expectation they will get back to you. 

The process of coming out of isolation, and going back to ‘normal life’, will bring its own set of mental health challenges. How might we prepare for those?

Coming out of lockdown was always going to be more difficult than entering it. This is because there was greater certainty about what we should be doing then (stay home) than there is now (when are restrictions are going to be lifted, what form will they take, who do they apply to?). 

So one key is to think about how you manage the uncertainty. Remember everyone is dealing with this challenge, so accept the situation as it is, and try not to be too judgemental of yourself and others. 

More concrete advice would include: establish or maintain contact with people you trust, try to keep to a routine, and limit your exposure to news programmes and social media as much as you can. 

How can businesses help destigmatize discussions around mental health?

Campaigns like yours certainly help to raise awareness which is brilliant.  Showing the world you recognise the importance of good mental health. Internally it’s making sure that there are support mechanisms for employees if they are struggling with their mental health, whether that’s in the form of mental health champions/first aiders or an employee assistance helpline. 

Do you have a favourite piece from Charlotte’s collection?

I love the Worry Not silver bracelet! Definitely a chic statement.   

Find out more about SANE and access their resources and programmes. 

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