Hello my name is Kulbir and l’m the Communications Lead for the Keeping Well NCL Hub and in this podcast I want to talk about the importance of building connections and seeking help. We know that men have traditionally found it harder to seek help compared to women – a claim that’s backed up by leading mental charities including Mind and the Mental Health Foundation. Although the causes are complicated, the consequences of not reaching out, or reaching out sooner rather are very real – death by suicide being the single biggest killer of men under 45 for example speaks to that. I also wanted to share my own story about my mental health – how I’ve struggled and also some snippets of what’s worked for me over the past 18 months. Covid clearly has a lot to answer ! I’d like to say that I’ve been fortunate too – fortunate that I haven’t lost any loved ones to Covid, unlike so many others. So, the onset of the first lockdown coincided with my decision to work for myself and become self- employed, figuring as I did that the freedom and control would be right up my street. It turns out that my timing couldn’t have worse! The work contracts that I had lined up at that point had all been postponed – I went from having 3 clients who had promised to work with me to precisely non…literally overnight! Not only was I pivoting to a new life, I then had to pivot again… an exhausting and daunting process. I clearly had to get comfortable with the idea of change! My work situation recovered in time (healthcare communications unsurprisingly being a growth area!) however it wasn’t long before familiar feelings of anxiety and loneliness kicked in. Spending long, uncertain days at my work desk felt awful and isolating (and still do). By 3pm it feels as though the walls have crept in. I missed the little interactions the most, the daily walks to the canteen, a lunchtime browse in the shops, small talk with the canteen and security staff, afternoon cups of tea. Most PR and comms folks tend to be people people…– so human stories, asking questions, being inquisitive is what we do best – take away people and you take away the fuel by which we work. SO in no particular order, this is what I learned about my mental health over the past 18 months since the first lockdown and also what I did to improve it: The first thing I did was accepted that I felt bad and sought support. Personally, therapy has been brilliant and professional mentors have been a godsend. Although I come from a background where we don’t really share, this process has encouraged me to open up a bit. I’ve kind of had to share – not being seen or heard is literally the worse feeling for me! I’ve found the regular weekly times gave me something to look forward to and has kept me accountable for what I want to achieve in the weeks and months ahead. Secondly, I Changed things up. I’m proud to co-run two support groups – one for LGBTQ+ Sikhs and one for Punjabi males focusing on their mental health. I found that they became my support networks and turning up and organising these sessions gave me a renewed sense of purpose. Being accountable to these groups also gave me a sense of belonging. I’d found my tribes and connected deeply with the online space we had fostered. Joining my first ever book club has been a revelation too allowing as it did a level of intimacy I hadn’t imagined was possible online. And thirdly, Focused on the things I’m good at. One of the joys of working for myself is that I can work on projects that bring out the best in me and let me focus on my skills. So for me that means collaboration, working to solve challenges and writing and I actively sought out projects that I thought I could make a difference on. So, over lockdown, it’s been a real pleasure working on the communications for the vaccine rollout in London and also for a mental health start up and for the keeping Well NCL Hub. As a parting thought, I want to say that if you are struggling with your mental health, please remember, there’s always someone there to help – be it a GP or friend or family member, so do reach out. And for those of us who think someone needs help or you sense they may be struggling, a useful tip I’ve found online is to ask twice: asking “How are you?” Followed up closely with “how are you, really?” For me, that that seems like a really powerful way of taking that extra step.