It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sunWilliam Blake, ‘Vala: or the Four Zoas, 1797
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer…
It is no easy thing to write a blog to raise awareness of World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October 2023 and hope that it will land well and have an impact on all who read it. Such is the anxiety of the writer: will it be any good? Will I be able to make an impact? Is what I am writing new or borrowed? Let’s get it out there, hold my breath and see. How different is this anxiety to that which we feel socially? Am I any good? Will I be able to make an impact? Am I worth ‘reading’ by other people or will they simply find me trite, clichéd and lacking in originality. Let’s get out there into the social mix, hold my breath and see.
It is an easy thing for the teacher who has full confidence in their subject knowledge to present an image of security to a class and to speak to them of the need to concentrate and focus and be engaged. But what if many of the faces or masks looking back at them are merely acting the role? It is an easy thing to talk of dedication and perseverance to the fragile pupil, but less easy to talk of shared vulnerability and fear of failure.
It is an easy thing for the pastoral figure to offer a listening ear and to provide comfort and solace to those in need; to speak of wisdom in the marketplace and hope some will come to buy. But what if that pastoral figure is themselves in need of consolation, and questions their worth? Who brings succour to them?
One of the striking things about working in a boarding community is the multiple identities and roles that we all occupy. Each role may present opportunities but many present challenges: how does one attempt to move gracefully between these different roles and still have a sense of stable identity? We exist in an extraordinary multiverse. We acknowledge the identity forming that is a fundamental part of adolescence but perhaps modern life has left adults and teenagers in the same boat, seeking out new identities both online and in person. Are you reading this and thinking you are, in fact, adultescent? We are all ever changing and growing but just as teenagers find themselves under pressure from that relentless question ‘Where is my life heading?’, perhaps adults, too, find themselves warily trying to pick out some paths in a labyrinth of devilish complexity with little more than a cheap flashlight as guide. Thus, some lose their way with the blind leading the blind.
However, today is the day when I hope everyone can step back and resolve to find simple ways to navigate this labyrinth; to find ways of pausing and allowing the multiple to still and find a point of calm either in the midst of the storm or as it passes by. How? By showing that ‘first mild touch of sympathy’ that Wordsworth describes: it could be a smile in the street, a brief ‘hello’ in passing, or a deliberate action to help someone in distress. These ‘little, nameless, unremembered, acts/Of kindness and of love’ are the very things that bind any community together. To be actively compassionate and to seek to do well to others is one of the best ways, too, to bind those multiple identities together. At this time of harvest, it may also be apt to suggest that sowing the seeds of such kindness will bring about an abundance of gratitude in time.
We should mark World Mental Health Day in a quiet and unassuming way: it should be a subtle series of cues and signals that respect the suffering of others while gently seeking to bring out the best in ourselves. As Blake says, it is easy to talk of patience to the afflicted but much harder to diminish their affliction. So instead of slogans and bold proclamations, let us act with subtle charity for the benefit of all.