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Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 was 18-24 May, and this year's theme was 'kindness'. Throughout the week, Contact staff members have been sharing acts of kindness from colleagues. Helen puts these anecdotes together for the latest Keeping In Contact blog post.

To contemplate this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of kindness, we asked Contact staff to tell us about ways in which a colleague’s kindness helped them through a tough moment, a difficult day, an absolute wallop of a week or in our Capital Team Manager Caroline’s case – an 8-year building project: 

“It’s an ambitious and complicated project and we very much want to get it right for our current young people and the next generation so there have been times when it’s been pretty stressful. I’m also Mum to two boys who both have special needs and this brings with it another set of challenges that can be difficult and make me feel anxious and overwhelmed. So there have been times over the years when I’ve been struggling and there has always been someone at Contact who has noticed and offered help. Whether that’s a cup of tea, a hug, an “are you okay, I’m here if you need to talk”, a joke, a piece of cake, or a large gin after work, that feeling of being part of a team of people who notice and genuinely care about how I and everyone else is doing is priceless!

As Caroline’s anecdote demonstrates, the spectrum of kindnesses is vast. From a grand gesture to a simple indicative facial expression at the right moment. 

Often, we don’t realise the huge impact a small kindness can have on the people around us at work and, in turn, the people in their lives away from the office. Being a listening ear for a colleague at work means they can go home having left that negative energy behind and be the person they need to be for themselves and their loved ones. They will feel better about the next working day because you’ve shown them they have your support. A well-timed brew, grabbing someone a sandwich when you can see they are too busy, inviting them on your lunchtime stroll to give them the break they might not realise they need or a smile or encouraging word can turn everything around. Kindness is a transformative force. 

It’s easy to live our lives unaware of other people’s struggles, particularly in a work environment as we all have our own to-do lists to focus on and expectations to meet. Both in the workplace and out in the world, we can fall in to the habit of operating in our own little bubbles to defend ourselves against being utterly overwhelmed by the struggles outside of them. It might be an effective short-term solution, but it can become divisive and isolating. This is more likely now than ever as we are in circumstantially enforced isolation and our worlds have been involuntarily reduced to those bubbles. Kindness can penetrate the alienating barriers created by the pressures we all experience. Show someone kindness, however small and seemingly insignificant, and their bubble is suddenly brightened by a new positivity that they carry with them and pass on to others. Someone cares and suddenly you’re awake to how much that means. 

It can be difficult to accept or ask for help because it can make us feel inadequate and that is why it’s so important to be aware of others in need of your kindness. It’s much easier to offer than it is to ask and it’s much easier to notice the need from the outside than it is when you’re the one burdened by something.  Modern life and professionalism seem to demand that we are always strong and capable and it’s easy therefore to confuse strength with unfaltering individualism. Villages, cities, friendship groups, communities, staff teams all exist out of the necessity for collaboration. Several Contact staff members have offered anecdotes that involved someone responding to their struggle by saying “come on, let’s figure this out together” when the task at hand wasn’t even relevant to their job role. Knowing yourself and what you need from and can offer to others is powerful. We need each other, especially now; there is no other way but together.  

Merely noticing that someone is in need of kindness is enough to make a difference, you don’t always have to have a solution; acknowledgement that someone is having a tough time of it and that is entirely reasonable can work wonders in a world where we are always kind to ourselves last. Ridding ourselves of the burden of keeping problems to ourselves is a personal kindness a problem shared is a problem halved as our Digital Content Officer, Bianca, will attest:  

“I was going through a transitional time last year, things were getting on top of me, so I emailed my manager at the time and asked if I could speak to them as I needed them to understand why I seemed so temperamental. Immediately they made time to give me uninterrupted time to cry, vent and just let it out. They didn’t judge, didn’t try to tell me I was wrong to feel so wound up, or that I should relax or calm down – instead they just supported me in my grief and anger and it was what I needed at that time. Sometimes being kind isn’t verbal, its simply listening with no intention of making the situation ‘right.”

Kindness isn’t just in the moment, it becomes part of us, and the memory can keep us warm on days when the world seems cold, as our House Manager, Georgie, reflected: 

Whenever I was a little down or stressed at work, my colleague would move the plant from their desk and put it on mine. They would often do this without even saying anything and it would always brighten my day. When she left the organisation they gave me the plant and it always reminds me of their little acts of kindness.”

In the workplace it can sometimes feel as though you almost aren’t permitted to be human, that 9-5pm you don’t have other concerns, other passions, other considerations. Try to be aware of your colleagues’ mood, behaviours and home situations so you are better equipped to recognise when they are struggling.  The aforementioned Bianca, who is currently furloughed and muchmissed, told me that one of our colleagues contacted her recently because she is normally very active on social media and she’d understandably been knocked out of that happy habit by recent events. They reached out to tell her that she needed to keep posting so they knew she was OK and because that was the rule for family and friends.

So many people are isolated from their loved ones now and we need to treat everyone like family and friends. Self-care is increasingly vital but so is community and kindness within it. Say hello to anyone and everyone you pass at a 2-metre distance on the street because even if they don’t respond, it will have an impact. You may be the only person they have interacted with that day. Make it count. Be kind… to yourself and to others. 

Mental Health Awareness Week is hosted each year by the Mental Health Foundation. You can find resources about looking after yourself and others on their website here.