This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Mike Sharpe, Councillor for Pype Hayes and Birmingham Labour Group’s Armed Forces Champion, writes about his experience of depression and the impact of COVID-19 on everyone’s mental health.

Having a mental illness is a very private thing. Lots of people don’t understand what a mental illness means. It can make you feel very lonely and isolated. You can walk around and look perfectly normal, but you are not. Inside you can be churning like nobody knows you are churning. People can feel embarrassed about having a mental illness which means they do not want to talk about it. I served in the army during the 1970s, and saw things I would rather have not seen. But I did not talk to anyone about my mental illness until I spoke to a psychiatric nurse in the 1980s.

Being in lockdown has made dealing with my mental health harder because I am not able to leave the house. Other councillors have been able to help their community by delivering parcels of food and other essential items to vulnerable residents, but I am shielding at home. It’s been quite frustrating at times, but I have been able to work from home to sort out any casework issues that have come in from Pype Hayes residents.

It has been amazing how many of my neighbours and my family have helped me out, by buying shopping and delivering it to our door. So many kind people have been prepared to help people who are shielding all over Birmingham.

If you are struggling with your mental health at the moment I think it’s very important to talk to your friends and family if you can. I have kept in touch with my neighbours and talk to them over our garden fences – at a safe distance of course. On VE Day we sat out in our front gardens, played some music and had a chat. It brought the street together. Clapping for carers on a Thursday also brings our street together and shows that we are not alone. If my depression starts coming on, I sit outside in my garden and take my kindle with me. Reading means I can try and take my mind off my troubles and go into another world.

I worry about the mental health of people working in our NHS, like doctors and our ambulance staff. The effect that working in a hospital during this crisis has on your mental health must be tremendous. When I left the army after six years, I just left with a handshake and a goodbye. Nobody ever followed up to see how I was affected by my experiences. We must make sure that we look after our key workers and think about how to help them cope with what they have experienced.

Don’t suffer in silence. Seek help if you need to.

Birmingham Council’s website on Mental Health support is here.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health Rosena Allin-Khan has 5 tips to look after your Mental Health here.

Watch Birmingham Labour Group’s Mental Health Champion Paulette Hamilton reflect on Mental Health Awareness Week here.

If you are struggling with your mental health, there are lots of places in Birmingham you can talk to.
If you are struggling with your mental health, there are lots of places in Birmingham you can talk to.
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