May I just… ?
At the core of mental health is the idea of resilience: the premise that a person can experience various issues, setbacks and personal disasters, but it is their ongoing ability to endure, or to recover from these problems that is important. This means that there is an expectation that events will not always go smoothly, but it is not the initial reaction that counts: instead, what matters is how well the individual can understand and accommodate each impact before trying to move on. Such experiences, when dealt with well, can lead to wisdom, as they allow the individual to gain a wider understanding of the situation and by learning to deal with the situation, they will know how to approach (or how to avoid) similar situations in future. The same experiences when dealt with poorly, can still contribute to wisdom, but the journey may take a longer route.
At the core of mental health is the idea of resilience
Taking on personal failures and trying to do anything other than pretending that it didn’t happen, or trying to curl up and hide, is always going to be difficult, but these problems can be compounded by the ever-present infiltration of technology. Social media can be particularly harsh, as there is a natural tendency for people to present the most positive aspects of themselves, which often glosses over the failures and loss, leaving an impression that our friends and associates are all high achievers, when the reality is that they are probably achieving and failing at much the same level as everyone else. Difficulties can come when our failures are not realised, they are ignored, or repeated. Sometimes this can result from something as simple as the use of single word:
I believe that the most dangerous word in current usage in the English language is ‘just’ in its primary use as an internal method of self-justification. I suspect that it may be the word with greatest responsibility for internal difficulties: for example, ‘I will just sit down for a moment,’ or ‘I will just have a quick look at this YouTube video / Facebook post,’ or the classic: ‘Just one small piece of cake/biscuit won’t hurt.’ The word ‘just’ can be particularly devastating at a mental health level, as it provides the means of distracting ourselves from things that we know may not be going well.
My children introduced me to a couple of ‘idle’ games a couple of years ago: these are games where credits are earned, even when no activity is taking place, which in turn encourages continuous engagement (and frequent spending to progress more quickly). Unfortunately for me, I was introduced to one of these games around the time that I lost a close friend, and the games became a way for me to deal with, and distract me, from the loss. It became first a crutch, then a surrogate for thinking, and then it insidiously infiltrated my life. It was my failure to recognise the problem that made the situation continue. By providing a chimera of control at a time when it felt as though I had very little control over anything, it became a proxy for thinking and it disguised the psychological damage that had been inflicted by grief.
I can remember that I allowed myself to play because it was ‘just’ a game, but it was that justification that allowed the game to steal many hours of waking and sleeping time. Such problems can escalate through non-thinking internalised justifications and by using the word ‘just,’ can keep adding to those problems.
I believe that the word ‘just’ is also a gateway word
However, I believe that the word ‘just’ is also a gateway word: whilst it can open the door to self-delusion and help us to obscure our failures, but tantalisingly, it can also provide the way through some of those problems and enable someone to get to the next stage: ‘If I can just finish this, I can move to that…’, ‘if I can just make it through this, the situation will improve…’ To learn how to use the word ‘just’ positively requires self-awareness, moderation and external inputs to prevent self-deception from continuing.
This is where friends, family and colleagues can continue to make a real difference, by helping to provide the positive forces required to keep each of us engaging with life and with each other on a less superficial level. I believe that the experiences of this pandemic have been particularly difficult because it has encompassed every strand of daily life: those with careers, those who were carers, and those who were cared for. Isolation, loss and dislocation have been identified as the overriding feelings resulting from sudden and unexpected segregation from the expected routines and outcomes: which are all formations of grief. When that is combined with the increased and required dependence upon social media and technology to maintain contact with others, the problems can be more difficult to identify, but with experience, ultimately the long-term benefits can be greater for everyone.
About the Author
Cathy Gardner is a contributing author for bonafide hr, an autistic individual, with extensive experience as an academic, senior policy advisor and senior litigation caseworker in London. Currently engaged as a parent, disability advocate, freelance author, perpetual student, editor of texts and occasional floozy.
Government and Acas guidance
The COVID-19 pandemic is continually changing and the government and Acas advice for employers is being updated as the situation develops. Employers should keep track of the guidance for employers from the following sources:
- BEIS guidance: Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) (Working safely guidance) (applicable in England).
- Welsh government, Workplace guidance for employers and employees: COVID-19 (Welsh Workplace guidance).
- Guidance, Taking all reasonable measures to maintain physical distancing in the workplace (applicable in Wales) (Welsh Working safely guidance).
- Welsh Government: Coronavirus (COVID-19): business and employers guidance (applicable in Wales) (Welsh guidance for employers).
- Acas: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for employers and employees (Acas guidance) (relevant to employers throughout the UK).
- Department for Health and Social Care: Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing; guidance for employers and third-party healthcare providers. (DHSC guidance) (currently only applicable in England but equivalent guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will also be published.
- EHRC: Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers, Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers: Reasonable adjustments for employees and Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers: Your duties on pregnancy and maternity (EHRC guidance) (relevant to employers throughout the UK).
- WHO guidance: Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19, Considerations for public health and social measures in the workplace in the context of COVID-19 Considerations for public health and social measures in the workplace in the context of COVID-19 (10 May 2020) and Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19 (5 June 2020) (WHO guidance) (applicable globally).
- Welsh Government: Your responsibilities as an employer (Coronavirus) (contains links to various pieces of guidance relevant to employers in Wales).
- NHS Test and Trace in the workplace (applicable in England).
- BEIS guidance: If you need to self-isolate or cannot attend work due to coronavirus (guidance for employers and workers).
- BEIS guidance: Holiday entitlement and pay during coronavirus (COVID-19) (COVID-19 holiday guidance) (applicable in England, Wales and Scotland).
- Public Health England: COVID-19: guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection (applicable in England) (Stay at home guidance).
Social distancing, business closures and restrictions on movement and activities
- Welsh government, Coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing guidance for everyone in Wales (applicable in Wales) (Welsh social distancing guidance).
- Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 (applicable in England) (Shielding guidance).
- Welsh government, Guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from coronavirus (COVID-19) – previously known as ‘shielding’ (applicable in Wales) (Welsh shielding guidance).
- Cabinet office guidance: Staying safe outside your home (Staying safe guidance) (applicable in England).
- Cabinet office guidance: Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do (applicable in England) (Coronavirus FAQs: what you can and can’t do).
- Welsh government, Coronavirus Regulations Frequently Asked Questions (applicable in Wales) (Welsh FAQs). This guidance was re-named “COVID-19 alert levels” on 20 December 2020. There are separate sections on the four alert levels, each of which has its own FAQs.
- Department of Health and Social Care and Health and Safety Executive guidance: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for pregnant employees (applicable throughout the UK).
- Cabinet Office guidance, COVID-19 restrictions: what you can and cannot do (applicable in England). Previously this guidance was titled “National lockdown: Stay at Home” and “Staying alert and safe (social distancing)” (Social distancing guidance) (the latter had replaced Cabinet office guidance: Staying at home and away from others (social distancing) and the original Public Health England: COVID-19: guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK, both of which were withdrawn).
Mental health at work