Take 5 for Mental Health Awareness Week: do what you can.

I remember visiting a friend who had severe depression in hospital some years ago and asking her, by way of making conversation, who had been to see her. Later on I was talking to the nurse who was looking after the ward and told her how shocked I was that no family had come, and only one friend, who’d made regular visits at least. I was annoyed, most of all with her family – she’d been in hospital for around 10 days and bar that one loyal friend, no relatives, no one else had been! How could they be so neglectful? The nurse replied with a pearl: ‘Everyone does what they can.’ Some people just can’t cope and so they keep away, some are plain busy or too wrapped up in their own lives, and I suppose the sad reality is that a few others don’t really care.

15 or so years have gone by and my friend still remembers my visits and I still remember the nurse’s reaction. The small amount of time it took me to visit each week made a huge difference to my friend – she remembers everyone else who came too.  And the nurse’s advice has served me well, removing a layer of irritation and frustration when I find people aren’t doing what I’d expect them to.

It can only take 5 minutes to make a difference. It’s Mental Health Awareness this week and an ideal time to take those 5 minutes to reach out to someone who will value your support.  If you know someone who’s feeling low, having a particularly stressful time or who’s dealing with mental health issues, take 5: visit them, phone them or simply send them a card or a text message.

If you’re fortunate enough not to know anyone experiencing problems, you can still reach out to others. How many people do you come across in your neighbourhood, on the bus or in the supermarket who look harassed or distressed? Give them a smile if nothing else, hold a door open, stop and chat for a while, offer them your seat, help them with their shopping or some other small chore.

Beyond that you could volunteer, donate, take part in an event or organise something to raise money to help others.

Whatever you do, do what you can and find the time – just 5 minutes could make all the difference to someone else’s day and it’ll make you feel good too. If you’re feeling low or having a hard time, helping someone else will give you a boost. Check the Doing Good Does You Good link from The Mental Health Foundation on our Facebook page for more ideas. Mental Health Awareness Week 2012 runs from 21 – 27 May.