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Health & wellbeing
What are the benefits of having a good old fashioned chin-wag?
How talking to others can be good for your mental health.
Most of us will remember that old BT ad, in which Bob Hoskins rasps, “It’s Good to Talk”. It’s a cliché, but on this occasion, there is some truth to it. Many older people have spent the last 18 months in enforced isolation; some are emerging, post-vaccine, having not had a proper face-to-face conversation with anyone for a long time.
This issue our Health section is devoted to mental health. How do we know if we’re struggling and what help is on offer? Over the page Shaema Saleh explains how talking therapies and other interventions can help you mentally. You might find it useful to talk to someone 1:1, or in a group of other older people.
However, sometimes we can improve our mental health just by talking to friends or family. Ruth Steinberg continues the story of Michael and Michaela. We featured the (fictional) pair in our Christmas 2020 edition and thought it was about time we caught up on how they were getting along.
Bit by bit, Michael
shared their stories
Michael and Michaela go to the Park By Ruth Steinberg
Do you remember meeting Michael and Michaela in this magazine at the turn of the year? Michael was a loner and had a very small life: no friends, rarely left the house and didn’t talk much to anyone. Then, one day, he saw next door’s cat, a beautiful tortoiseshell. He wanted to touch its fur, stroke it, see it close-up.
He tempted it down into his yard and that led to him meeting his next-door neighbour, Michaela. Michael and Michaela – well, that coincidence tickled them both. They became friends. Michaela gave him plants in pots and Michael went to the local library to learn how to look after them. And so, his life opened up bit by bit.
Well, their friendship grew. Michaela planted a small plum tree next to the fence between their houses, and Michael made a gate to make it easier to pop in for a cuppa. It was Michaela who did most of the talking and Michael heard many stories of when she came to England from the Caribbean as a child. He loved to listen to stories of her as a little girl, of her family. There were many happy stories but also some stories that were hard.
Then one day Michaela said, “Tell me about when you first came to this house.” Michael just said, “I was born here” and then he went quiet. Michaela knew that the best thing to do was leave him be. But her curiosity was aroused.
A while later they were walking in the park, as they did every week, enjoying the bluebells, when Michaela asked, “Did you come to this park when you were a boy?” Michael’s face lit up and he led her, walking quickly up past the bandstand, down the path to the lake and there swimming round and round were 2 swans with newly hatched baby cygnets. They watched for a while but then he lowered his head and said, “I want to go home now.” It was as if a rain cloud had gone in front of the sun.
Over a cup of tea Michaela asked gently, “What happened?” Michael walked over to the sideboard and took down a photo frame and handed it to Michaela. She looked at the picture of a young boy sitting at the feet of a young woman. The boy was playing with a ball of wool teasing a tabby-cat. The woman was smiling down at both of them.
“Is this your mother?” Michaela asked. Michael nodded his head slowly. He whispered so quietly it was hard to hear.
The next time Michaela was in Michael’s house she pointed at the picture of him and his mother and said, “Tell me a happy story of you and your mother”. Michael said that one day he went with his mum to the park and there were 2 swans with 7 newly hatched cygnets. He watched them swimming round and round. They came every day after that, and the swans swam up to them. They brought bird seed for them and day by day, week by week he watched them grow. He got to know the other birds, the coots with the white marks on their beaks, the moorhens with their big feet and of course the ducks. But it was the cygnets that he remembered best. Then not long after that his mother went into hospital and never returned. He stopped going to the park. Life just stopped. His father didn’t speak much and neither did he.
Bit by bit, Michael and Michaela shared their stories. Then one day, over a cuppa, Michael got up from the table and went over to the sideboard. He openedone of the drawers and took out a well-used, creased and tatty notebook. He handed it to Michaela without looking at her. Michaela took it and carefully opened it. She turned the pages and looked at one drawing after another, after another. The notebook was chock-a-block with swans and cygnets, and pages
full of cats.
“Did you do these?” asked Michaela. Michael nodded and said “But that was a long time ago. I don’t draw now”.
The next week on their regular walk in the park Michaela said, “Let’s go down to the lake and see how the swans are doing”. When they got there Michaela said, “I have a present for you.” And handed him a gift bag.
Michael said, “But it’s not my birthday.” He thanked her and took it. He looked inside and gasped. He pulled out a sketchbook, drawing pencils, coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener and a rubber. A tear rolled down his face.
“Go on,” said Michaela “have a little go.” So they sat on a bench and Michael started to draw.
It is now August Bank Holiday. Michaela’s sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces have come round. They are having a barbecue, using both backyards. And in the middle of the cooking, the children playing, the sisters talking nineteen to the dozen, is Michael sitting quietly by the open gate between the two houses, with the sketchbook on his lap. He is drawing the tortoiseshell cat, that is lying under the plum tree, basking in the warmth of the sun, dreaming of who knows what.
Shaema Saleh from Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service explains how you can get support with your mental health if you need to.
Getting older, feeling low
Some people think that low mood is part of ageing, but this is a myth. It is not a normal part of getting older and it might be a sign you need some help or support. Common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can impact anyone at any time of life including in later life. The research suggests that 1 in 5 older people may be living with depression. There may be things that affect your mental health (such as a bereavement, being physically unwell or the coronavirus pandemic) but other times there might not be a clear reason and that is fine too.
Covid & Wellbeing
We know that the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health. Research shows that there has been a measurable difference in reported symptoms under lockdown. So, if you are struggling, you are not alone. If you are an older person, staying at home may have helped to protect you from the virus - but reports from Age UK suggest it can lead to other serious problems. For example: loss of function, mobility and balance especially as a result of moving around less; pain from untreated medical conditions that will often have got worse these last few months; and the psychological impact of living with so much stress, uncertainty and isolation, leading to increased loneliness among other problems. As restrictions lift, we understand that life does not just go back to normal for many people, and that support might be needed to face these challenges.
If you have noticed feeling down, having less enjoyment in hobbies, lacking energy, or worrying more then you may benefit from some support with your mental health. There are services and treatments available for mental health difficulties. If you are feeling like this, you can talk to your GP; they might signpost or refer you to mental health services such as the Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service. Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service is working in a joined-up way across the city with NHS partners and third sector organisations to make sure the people of Leeds can get the right support, at the right time and in the right place.
Our treatments are available for those aged 17 and over who are registered with a Leeds GP. The Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service provides support and psychological therapies for common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, which one in four of us will experience in our lives. We offer a range of evidenced based psychological interventions, including group based and 1:1 therapies, classes, one-off sessions, and online support options. You can talk online (on a video call) on the phone or in person – it’s up to you.
Find out more
You will need to complete an assessment and you will be able to discuss treatment options with one of our therapists.
You can directly refer yourself to the service. Call us on 0113 843 4388 or speak to your GP.
Some people benefit from a different approach with their mental health difficulties. If it is not clear that your current difficulties can be addressed through the LMWS Therapies outlined above or secondary care NHS mental health services, you may be directed by your GP or other health professional to the Primary Care Mental Health Staff within Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service.
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