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Olympic athletes have shone a light

by
13 August 2021

Issues of mental health have been brought into the public eye, says Jean Fletcher

Sport In Pictures/Alamy Live News 

Simone Biles, the US Olympic gymnast, who has explained: ‘I say put your mental health first,’ after withdrawing from some events in Tokyo

Simone Biles, the US Olympic gymnast, who has explained: ‘I say put your mental health first,’ after withdrawing from some events in Tokyo

AS WE “come out of the pandemic”, the mental-health community has a hugely important part to play. Trying to return to “normality”, typically, is a challenge already faced by those receiving mental-health care, whether in the community or as patients in a hospital unit.

The world of mental health has often, until now, been completely disregarded in daily society. How can one connect with this hidden community to be helped towards a return to a functioning “normal” daily life? After all, mental-health settings are intended to be all about recovery.

A newly discovered confidence placed in people who are largely overlooked could open a “dialogue”, helping both parties: those who had previously been ignored and those who consider themselves “all right, thank you very much”, and therefore separated from such suffering. People with fragile mental health know by experience all about these challenges. Could a forum be created where such a mutual sharing could take place, such as those of faith meetings, with supporters of the Mental Health Foundation to set a chain of events in motion, bringing people together to share their experiences? How could this be achieved?

The current headlines from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and also the wider sporting world, have catapulted mental-health issues into the public domain (Leader comment, 30 July; Podcast, 6 August). Where once such suffering was hidden from view, increasingly there is the realisation that anxiety, uncertainty, and burnout are common experiences. We can thank a growing number of sporting figures for their courage in naming the problems and taking action to ensure their mental well-being. This comes as a new enlightenment just at the right time.

 

SO MANY challenges have arisen. As we look to the younger generations, we see that they have the most to contend with. They have had disrupted schooling, they have suffered the agony of many months of being confined at home, and they have missed experiences of friendship, activity, and adventure.

For students, there has been the incalculable loss of courses not being taught face to face, just when mental capacity is at its greatest. Social life, opportunity, “growing up” have all been put on hold — or, worse still, ruined. This precious time cannot be regained for many young people. The consequential working out of this will take a long time.

I believe that we have an urgent task of reconciliation and of creative imagination, to help us to reach beyond the pandemic. Whether or not we have faith, we can address some practical questions: To whom can we look as inspiring leaders? How can we play our part in the rebuilding? How can contemplation help us to discern what is needed? What would we wish to restore from our pre-pandemic lives, and what needs to be set aside? How can we discover the new priorities of our life together?

These are all matters of discernment, and for that we shall need time and space to reset our lives. We are looking to respond in practical ways to these life-changing events, visited on ourselves, on those whom we love, and on those whom we do not even know.

 

THERE is something that we can do. The Chinese proverb would have it that every journey begins with one small step. Our prayers carry us forward, and we can turn once more to the Psalms to help us. Over long years, the Psalms have helped believers to express all the ups and downs of life, and the psalmists continue to bring comfort and nourishment.

Perhaps we can take this opportunity to turn to them again to find their essence for us, especially at this time of renewal. In these extraordinary days of turmoil and violence, and notwithstanding the crisis of climate chaos, we can seek stillness, a settling, a trust, a meaning in life. It can become, for us, a journey from the depths towards recovery in these post-pandemic times.

Below are some psalms suggested for personal contemplation for a period of one month.

They will take us on a journey from darkness, loss, and pain towards stillness, dawn, and light. Jesus Christ our Saviour silently and patiently awaits our arrival, even as he himself prays to the Father. We are pilgrims marked by the experience of the pandemic, and we can receive his life-giving embrace, which can enable us to set out again, one with another, with renewed energy and hope.

 

Thirty-one Psalms to guide us through a month, towards resurrection
Darkness: 42, 22, 137,. 37, 130
Loss: 27, 91, 13, 116, 147, 4
Pain: 34, 136, 40, 19, 145
Stillness: 23, 84, 104, 42, 139
Dawn: 100, 8, 46, 85, 30
Light: 121, 17, 28, 131, 150
 

The Revd Jean Fletcher is a Methodist minister and a retired mental-health chaplain.

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