When the promise of spring is not enough

(Photo: Unsplash/Biegun Wschodni)

Spring is in the air, with flowers pushing through and the promise of warmer weather and longer, sunny days. There is also hope on the horizon for a gradual return to some form of normality through the roadmap to the reopening of the economy and society.

For some, this is something to cling on to, the long looked-for hope of a better time ahead; the encouragement they need to keep pushing forward until the light at the end of the tunnel brightens and comes ever closer. Yet there are many for whom this is not a panacea.

I have worked alongside people dealing with issues of mental health and well-being for 38 years, and for the last 22 of these I have been responsible for a national confidential telephone helpline. One thing I have learned regarding the seasons is that we do not all respond to them in the same way. Many know about the impact of long dark nights and the cold bleak weather on people's moods, and through this last winter this has been exacerbated due to the lack of social interaction and enforced lockdown and isolation.

Whereas for some people the welcome change in the season may bring hope and relief, for others these very changes can reinforce their troubling inner feelings, sadness and sense of isolation. This may seem strange, for surely the coming of the sun, warmth, re-growth in nature, and for many Easter and everything associated with it, must be heart-warming and mood lifting, yet for many all of this reinforces just how bad they are feeling inside, how isolated they are from those around them, and how much they are missing.

At least everyone is in the same boat during the winter, going through the same stuff, and therefore the difference between expectations and experience is relatively limited. As the season changes, the gap (whether real or perceived) widens greatly. This starts from Valentine's Day, Mothers Day, and Easter, and builds through all the expectations of enjoyment of the life and joys of spring; however, if someone is isolated, low in mood, feeling left behind, then the difference between where they are and where everyone else is thought to be is very marked, reinforcing everything they are already feeling and making it feel so much worse.

It is no surprise that, at this time of year, people with significant mental health issues may sense that they are trapped in their current state and feel worse than before. I could write about this concerning phenomenon any year, but this year the potential impact of this process is likely to be exacerbated due to the limits on social contact, movement, and support networks - both informal and professional. The contrast is likely to be felt even more keenly by vulnerable people as life for many others begins to open up. The discrepancy will feel even worse.

It is very important that we recognise the need to support people through this time. Just knowing there is someone there to speak to can make all the difference: a person who will call to check in with you, who can simply ask, "How are you doing?"; that friendly voice.

Through Premier Lifeline: the National Christian Helpline, we offer a listening ear, someone to talk to, and emotional and spiritual support, and we are open from 9am to midnight every day on 0300 111 0101. However, we know that we can only ever be there for a fraction of the people in need. Even considering the combined services offered by all the other helplines, there is still more that needs to be done to help at this time, and so we have launched two initiatives to encourage more people to get involved.

The first is Call and Care, where we have developed a series of training through freely available online videos and downloadable resources. These can be used by groups – for example, churches and community organisations - to recruit and train local volunteers who can then call out to people in their neighbourhood to offer this friendly voice and to be there for them.

In addition to this, we are running a campaign to encourage everyone to call and keep in touch with people they already know who might be struggling at this time, just to check in with them. As I was writing this piece, I was prompted to call someone. Why not do the same? It just takes a few minutes - a simple call which might encourage another person and transform their life today.

Jonathan Clark is director of Premier Lifeline, a confidential telephone helpline open 365 days a year from 9am to midnight on 0300 111 0101.