Wednesday 29 May 2024

THIS BOY BLOGS TOO: Three Blog Posts I'm Proud of and Why

May you be proud of the work you do, the person you are, and the difference you make. (Unknown)

I’m a great believer in celebrating success, no matter how great or small it might seem in the grand scale of things. It’s healthy to take pride in our achievements, and to acknowledge those of our friends and loved ones. Those four little wordsI’m proud of you — can mean so much. With that in mind, I’d like to share three blog posts I’m especially proud of writing.

An Open Letter to My Bipolar Best Friend

Read the full post here.

This is the first piece that came to mind when I started thinking about which posts I’m most proud of. I love the open letter format, and have written several, including one to Fran to mark ten years of friendship, and letters to my late mother and father. This first one to Fran, though, is special. Written in May 2016, it captures the essence of what we’re about, our journey as friends, and my personal journey in the mental health arema. It’s one of the top five most viewed posts on our blog, but more important than the number of views are the comments people have left on the blog post itself.

Your writing is able to connect, resonate and help change lives... because you write from the heart... with compassion.

I read a wonderful post like yours and feel invigorated and I find the will to try again.

I think you and Fran are extraordinary. Your writing and insights are open and honest and making an impact on the lives of others, in both big and small ways.

Comments such as these remind me that what Fran and I are doing in sharing our ideas, insights, and experiences, makes a difference. We may not reach hundreds of thousands of people but we touch those we do reach.

Reading the letter now, I’m transported back to where and when I wrote it. I remember the café, one of my all-time favourite writing places, where I spent almost every Saturday morning. I remember the day itself, because I got talking to someone who told me about the Newcastle Literary Salon. I’m proud of the fact I followed up on the suggestion, booking myself a slot at the next event before I had the chance to change my mind. The Salon became a regular haunt of mine for a while. I read from our book High Tide Low Tide several times, and it inspired blog posts including #BeReal and Like a Rootless Tree. Shoutouts to Fred for that initial heads-up, and to Juli who introduced me on my first ever live book reading at the Salon. I owe you both a great deal. Signing up to read at the Literary Salon was only the latest in a number of things I’d dared myself to do, inspired and encouraged by Fran.

It’s scary to put myself out there in person, but that is part of what I’ve learned: to dare, to challenge myself — whether it’s doing a zip-wire slide from the Tyne Bridge to raise funds for Crisis, addressing the Mental Health First Aid team at Virgin Money, volunteering at the Time to Change Mental Health Day event, or appearing live on radio! I would never have done any of this if it were not for our friendship.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. There were times when I felt frustrated and disillusioned about my writing. Fran never dismissed my concerns, but she also invited me to recognise my achievements and move forward. I recall the following exchange vividly and with great affection.

You messaged me overnight, “Wish you were feeling less flat.. You wrote a book.. A whole fucking book.. Don’t you give yourself credit for that?” That jolted me out of my self-pity (thank you!) And you’re right! I (we) have indeed written a whole fucking book! Our book, our story. A guide to inspire and inform others who — like me — support and care for a friend with mental illness.

At the time, High Tide Low Tide was pretty much written, but we’d yet to secure a publisher. That would come a few months later. The open letter reminded me at the time, and reminds me still, of all we’ve achieved both personally and on the wider stage, and the importance of what we’re doing.

What to Do When Your Loved One with Bipolar Is Doing OK

Read the full post here.

As well as writing for our blog, I’ve contributed to many other blogs and organisations. I shared a list of these guest posts last year. The article I’ve chosen to highlight here was the first of several I contributed to bp Magazine. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to write for such an esteemed publication, and to writer and author Julie A. Fast for the initial introduction. This first piece has been read more then 24,000 times and has attracted some great comments from readers. I’m proud of this one in particular because it touches on something that’s given little attention. Specifically, the challenges — and opportunities — that can arise when your friend or loved one is doing well.

I’m often asked how I handle things when Fran is in mania, depressed, or suicidal. Very few people ask what it’s like when she’s doing okay — but that’s not always easy either.

It’s clear from the comments that others appreciated my suggestions and the message of hope they offered. My other articles at bp Magazine include 5 Must-Read Rules to Help Your Friend with Anxiety & Bipolar Disorder, How to Spot Bipolar Red Flags, The Enchantment of Euphoric Mania, and How to Support Your Friend from Afar.

THIS BOY GETS SAD TOO

Read the full post here.

The third post I’ve selected was written in June 2021. I’m proud of it because it was the first time I’d admitted publically that I too experience mental ill health at times. Speaking of the BOYS GET SAD TOO lapel pin I’d recently bought, I wrote:

It doesn’t mean the healthy kind of sadness that arises in response to events. I feel that kind sometimes, of course. It means depression, anxiety, stress, mental ill-health of all kinds. Boys — and men — get that way too. I get that way too. The deeper, pervasive malaise I’ve felt for a while is of that kind. It’s becoming endemic. Part of my emotional landscape. Flat, arid, featureless.

In the post, I explored what this realisation meant for me, and how I might navigate my way forward. It was an important moment, not least because for once I’d focused on my own needs. It was about time.

I have a collection of mental health t-shirts and wear them proudly, even though I know that wearing t-shirts is not enough. My BGST badge is the first mental health item I’ve bought that feels like it’s for me.

I’m also proud that I didn’t post this one article about my mental health and then set the topic aside. I’ve explored the subject further in such posts as Return to Down and Anxiety and Me. I’ve also discussed aspects of my physical health, including my prostate cancer check-up and visits to my optician. Most recently, I’ve shared my experiences of alexithymia, a condition characterised by the inability to express one’s emotions in words. I’ve written about how that affects me in two blog posts: How Do I Feel? and How Do I Feel Now?. The Boys Get Sad Too brand continues to inspire me. I wear my two BGST hoodies with pride, and have written on men’s mental health and heroes, toxic masculinity, and gender identity. These are themes I’d like to explore further in the future.

Honourable Mentions

It was difficult selecting just three blog posts from the hundreds I’ve written since we launched Gum on My Shoe in 2013. Articles I’m proud of which didn’t quite make the cut include:

Fran and I would love to hear which of our blog posts you’ve most enjoyed reading, especially any you find yourself coming back to, or which left a strong impression. Drop your thoughts in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photo by Madalyn Cox at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 22 May 2024

The Art of Friendship: Exploring the Portland Museum of Art and the Laing Art Gallery With My Best Friend

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Fran and I enjoy sharing our lives as much and as richly as possible. That’s not always easy, given that we live three thousand miles apart, but few things are out of scope if you approach them with a little creativity! We often meet on video calls while we’re out and about, either locally or when we’re on vacation. The sounds of traffic and bird song. The trees and flowers, houses and gardens. Public transport and passers-by. All these and more take on a fresh vitality when shared with a friend, especially one who lives on the other side of the world. In this post I‘d like to share visits we‘ve made to the keynote art galleries in our respective cities: Portland‘s Museum of Art, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.


Robert Indiana's Seven outside Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine

The Portland Museum of Art

Earlier this year, Fran took me to visit the Portland Museum of Art. It wasn’t the first time we’ve visited an art gallery together, but it was my first time at the PMA. Fran showed me most of the exhibits. I enjoyed the wide range of paintings, including land and seascapes such as Georges Island, Penobscot Bay, Maine by Newell Convers Wyeth, and the drama of Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten. No less interesting were more modern pieces, such as Cheryle St Onge’s Untitled from the series Calling the Birds Home in which she documented her mother’s descent into dementia. Bernard Langlais’ collection of bird and fish sculptures brought our visit to a delightfully quirky close.

Bernard Langlais, Untitled

Outside, we paused to appreciate Robert Indiana’s impressive steel sculpture Seven. I was interested to see it because a few years ago Fran and I read The Isolation Artist, an account of Indiana’s final years at Vinalhaven in Maine, written by arts writer and storyteller Bob Keyes. Bob interviewed us in 2019 for the Maine Sunday Telegram to discuss our book and our experiences as long-distance friends.


Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

Laing Art Gallery

I was able to return the favour a few weeks later when I visited a new exhibition of work by English artist J. M. W. Turner at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. It was my first trip into the city in more than two years, apart from my covid jab late in 2022 and two opticians appointments last year. I made the most of the adventure, treating myself to breakfast at my favourite city coffee shop, and a drink down by the Quayside before heading home. The exhibition was the main focus of the day, though. I’ve been fascinated by Turner since watching Timothy Spall’s mesmerising performance in the title role of Mike Leith’s 2014 drama Mr Turner.

Because of the five hour time difference between Newcastle and Portland, I had chance to explore on my own before connecting with Fran. It’s fair to say that I was initially frustrated because it was difficult to get close to the keynote work The Fighting Temeraire due to gallery staff being filmed talking about the exhibition. I do think that could have been done before opening to the public! That said, there were plenty of other works to look at, and filming had completed by the time I went back with Fran. Note to self: maybe don’t go to a new exhibition on the first day, within an hour of the doors opening!

J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire

The fact that I’d looked around first helped me describe some of the highlights and background to Fran. HMS Temeraire played a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. Turner’s painting shows her at the end of her life, being towed up the Thames by a steam tug to be broken for scrap. The exhibition includes models of the ship made by prisoners of war.

Many of the paintings and sketches in the exhibition are on maritime themes, which connects Turner’s masterpiece with the north-east’s proud history of shipbuilding and seafaring. The Temeraire was built in Chatham, but the tugs which towed the ship to its final resting place were from this region. Her fame reflects the fact that she was the only ship mentioned by name in Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood’s despatch from Trafalgar after the battle. Collingwood was Nelson’s second-in-command. He was born in Newcastle and is commemorated by a striking monument at Tynemouth which overlooks the mouth of the river. The Laing houses Chris Killip’s photography exhibit The Last Ships which documents the decline of shipbuilding in the region in the 1970s and is well worth a visit.

John Martin, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

I enjoyed taking Fran round the rest of the gallery too, pointing out pieces I knew from when I used to visit far more regularly. We sat to experience John Martin’s epic painting The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. At the touch of a button, we were immersed in crashing sounds and flashing lights that echoed the thunder, lighting, and chaos depicted in the painting. Fran was fascinated by a large, intricately carved piece by Gerrard Robinson depicting a boar hunt. Nearby, I pointed out her silver Best Friend Award which, sadly, must remain in its display case as it’s too large for me to mail to her. (It’s possible the piece has a different provenance, but to me it will always be Fran’s Best Friend Award!)

Two powerful modern works engaged our attention. Shot Boy by Ken Currie is a tragic yet hauntingly beautiful painting which depicts the body and spirit of a teenaged boy killed in a firearms incident. Beside it hangs Dysphoria by local artist Lizzie Rowe. I’ve long been fascinated by this work. The large (8ft by 8ft) canvas is hung somewhat claustrophobically in a corner near one of the doors, which makes it difficult to study for any length of time without having to step aside to let people past. The vague frustration and unease this evokes is in keeping with the painting’s theme.

Lizzie Rowe, Dysphoria

Seeing the painting for the first time in years was made all the more poignant because the artist died in December 2023. While researching this post I came across a beautiful celebration of Lizzie Rowe’s life and work on Fiona Mcandrew’s Coffee Crafts and Chats YouTube channel. It’s clear that Lizzie was very well-loved. The tribute helped me feel I knew her just a little. It also reminded me of what Fran and I hope to portray in all we do: the importance of friendship, caring support, and connection.

Turner: Art, Industry and Nostalgia is on at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle until September 7, 2024. Admission charges apply.


Over to You

Being in a mutually supportive friendship isn’t just about being there for each other when times are hard. It’s about sharing the good things too! In this post l‘ve related two recent occasions where Fran and I spent time together despite living thousands of miles apart. We invite you to try it out, if you‘re not already doing so. We‘d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Photos and video call screenshots by Martin Baker.

 

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Moving More for Our Mental Health

By Paul Saunders-Priem

Introduction

I first met Paul and his lovely wife Fiona in July 2018 on a bench overlooking Derwentwater in the English Lake District. We hit it off immediately and exchanged details before parting company. I had the pleasure to accompany them on one of their urban rambles around my home city of Newcastle a few years later. I recently shared a link on social media to the Mental Health Foundation’s positive mental health image library. Paul commented that “Walking is a great way to manage your mind wellbeing. Been doing that most of my life!” Not one to let the opportunity of a guest post escape me, I asked if he’d consider sharing his thoughts and experiences for Mental Health Awareness Week. This brilliant piece is the result. Thank you, Paul.

 

Moving More for Our Mental Health

By Paul Saunders-Priem

From birth you are overcoming the urge to be still. Think then move is the most basic human thing to do. This comes with a catch called choice which is where all the good stuff starts and the bad. I was walking in the hills years ago and chose to walk into a bog because it didn’t look like a bog! No matter what the choice though once the decision is made inertia is best overcome by simply taking the first steps. You’ve won! It might not be a big victory but it’s a win!

So now I’m moving. I look around but of course I’m thinking and best of all: feeling. No matter what mental ups and downs I have I’m on a higher plane than when I was not moving. A movement victory can bring negative feelings which are necessary because movement brings risk physical and mental. We always look when crossing a road. It’s obstacles all the way or steps up as I like to call them: opportunities to notice the movement achievement past present and future because no matter whether moving or not my mental state and the world around me is moving! We’re all on the living ride like it or not.

The decision to move is mental preparation for what comes next. No one knows what life puts in front of you big or little but after deciding to move that empowering feeling puts you in a good position to deal with it. I walked my family into a bog in the Pennines but stop and retreat came quickly because decision was forced on me and I was ready. Movement leads to mental awareness which brings more movement!

I’ve been a hiker most of my 67 years. I still urban ramble at least twice a week doing never less than 10 miles in total and 5 days of the week my movement is pacing around my backroom for exercise because you get stiff if you sit for too long, but even this limited activity with none of the outside stimulation of weather and scenery has a positive effect on thinking and feeling. I do this backroom pacing because I’m very engrossed in activities but the urge to move is always there pushed by my mind to take a break and coffee doesn’t move to me... I’ve got to do that myself! Coffee breaks are great movement points!

The move-rest rhythm always pushing us on the journey physical or mental is the natural organisation of life. You may feel good or bad but there it is: a problem, a potential, path or pleasure. Your mind is going to work on it. Moving that rhythm around through choice is the only freedom anyone has and the urge is always to feel better. So looking for better choices is our natural state. No one puts salt into coffee!

Getting on the move is choosing your problem not letting it choose you. Live your own rhythm. I’ve been physically handicapped (an injured arm from an accident) for over 60 years. I’ve never had a mental health problem because my inner life always has this focus on my damaged arm. It’s my permanent daily problem but it can be made better or worse. No choice here but healthy though, because people with mental health problems also have no choice. I’m no different from many other people. From typing to cooking for my family I always have to notice my physical handicap, like it or not. Just like life itself. But within my limitation I can live my own rhythm and if I want a better life: I have to.

So quality of movement is needed here. I can try various ways (movements) to adapt to my injured arm. Walks / exercise / movement is on a worse to better continuum and considering this alone is uplifting. You may feel like not being on the spectrum at all! But like it or lump it we all are so movement starts in the mind and not doing something about it feels like two failures: the one in the mind and the one your body hasn’t done.

The tension of choice always exists between getting going or not. No matter what problem I have it is there. So on top of what needs to be solved is that initial getting going problem. Inertia is a universal working against moving mentally and physically, whether it is a property of mental illness or in my case life itself. Whilst with my physical handicap I know I am different from those that are not, I draw a great strength knowing that I share with everyone the daily battle of deciding whether to get up and get going or not! What I call the universal grief or grin is always there!

Movement by walking is the number-one mood management tool. Any environment physical or mental is lived in up to a point and then it is time to do something else. I may not feel like doing that but walking as a habit is a way of life for me because I have been doing it since being a toddler where I escaped from the army compound I lived in in Hong Kong and wandered the city! It takes me into a new world which relieves the oppressive feeling that I need to make a change by doing something different. Walking does not have to be striding out in the hills or sprinting around the urban landscape it can simply be pacing in my own room.

All of what I have written is surrounded by time, and organising time within walking occurs whether an interval is set or not because eventually I will feel hungry or thirsty: the desire for coffee always lurks! Alongside walking is setting a time period which adds even more power and control over mood. Such goal setting at times to me seems almost petty and inconsequential but it is massively life enhancing. Goal setting is a form of hope. There are many little wins in daily life and I’ve found these wins built on a foundation of movement just make that daily struggle that bit better!

 

Photo of Paul in Whitby, by Fiona Saunders-Priem.

 

Wednesday 8 May 2024

MOVE YOU YOUR WAY: A Few Thoughts on Movement and Self-Care for Mental Health Awareness Week

We tend to forget that baby steps still move you forward.
— Unknown

On the evening of my birthday back in March I was talking with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. Amongst other things we discussed our ideas for Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of moving more for our mental health. I found it ironic given that I’d just posted an article – The Joy of Missing Out: Not Doing Things Is a Thing I Do Now – in which I shared how I no longer had much interest in “going out and doing things.” With a few exceptions I prefer to spend my personal time sitting in my favourite coffee shop, writing. Although this wasn’t as beneficial to my physical health as the walking I used to do on a regular basis, it did allow me to think things through and explore whatever was going on for me internally.

The very next day on my way into the office, I was presented with a choice. The second of my two trains was delayed. I could wait half an hour on the platform, take the five-minute train journey, then walk another ten minutes to the office. Or I could opt for a twenty-minute walk. The weather was mild and dry. I had no reason not to take the latter option. As I set off on what, pre-covid, had been a regular and valued part of my daily commute, I thought back to my conversation with Aimee. I smiled. Here I was, choosing to walk. To get a little physical exercise. To move.

I found myself enjoying that weird sense you get when you revisit somewhere you used to know on a regular, even daily, basis. Most things are the same but here and there you notice differences. Changes. In your surroundings, certainly. But in yourself too. I recalled how it was like that after covid. Not only were there changes in the world around me — social distancing, mask-wearing, rules, signage, behaviours — but also changes within me. One of the biggest internal changes was no longer feeling the need to travel far from home, if at all.

Before the pandemic I was in the office five days a week, and almost always walked to and from the train station. I still travel to the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but have walked it on no more than a handful of occassions. I have more to carry now, as I need to take my laptop back and forth every day. But that’s not much of a reason. It’s not even much of an excuse.

These thoughts and others were with me as I made my way into the office. I stopped a few times to jot down ideas for this blog post, but mostly I allowed my mind to wander wherever it would. I found myself recalling the people, relationships, and events that had occupied me on my walks in the past. Those twenty minutes had been a useful transition between home and work, as well as affording me a little physical exercise. I’ve not necessarily committed to walking each time I go in to the office, but I enjoyed the experience and may give it a go. I told Aimee later how our conversation had inspired me, not only to take the walk but to explore the theme for MHAW.

A few weeks later while researching an article about mental health non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms I came across one of their t-shirt designs with the following message emblazoned across it in huge letters: LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT. It got me thinking about movement as self-love, self-care. And how self-care isn’t only physical things like going for a walk. It’s taking time and making space for whatever you most need at that moment. The insight helped with one of the problems I’d been having with this year’s theme. The idea that if you’re depressed or anxious or living with some other form of mental health issue, all you need to do is get up and go for a walk. Preferably in nature. In the woods, maybe. Or on the beach. And you’ll be fine. That’s not how the organisers of MHAW intend it, I know, but it’s something I see all too often online.

Physical exercise can be helpful to our mental health, but it’s not the panacea it’s sometimes made out to be. It’s also neither appropriate nor suitable for everyone at all times. Disability, chronic fatigue, insomnia, pain, the utterly debilitating inertia of depression, the lack of safe, affordable access to the outdoors, and any of a hundred other factors can make “get up and go for a walk, you’ll feel better” challenging at best and toxic at worst. Even taking a shower, washing the dishes, or making the bed may be too much on some days.

LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT helped me see that any and all means of self-care are capable of moving us forward. That might include going out for a walk or to the gym, but it also includes meeting a friend for a chat, in person or on the phone. It includes taking that shower or making the bed if you’re up for it. But it equally includes taking your meds, booking an appointment, asking for help, curling up with a book or the TV, or deciding on a day of extreme rest. Anything that takes you from today to tomorrow, from this hour to the next, from this moment to the next moment is meaningful.

So yes, movement is good, but don’t feel pressured to do more than you’re comfortable with, or guilt-tripped into other people’s ideas of what kind of movement is or isn’t valid. Move you, your way.

 

Further Reading

Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 will take place from 13 to 19 May, on the theme of “Movement: Moving more for our mental health.” For more information check out the Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness. Also check out our collection of articles we’ve shared for MHAW in previous years, as well as other awareness days and events.

 

Photo by Martin Adams at Unsplash.

 

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Thanks, I'm Cured! The Big Red Button and What (Not) to Say When Your Friends Need Help

Want a one size fits all solution to your mental health problems? You’re cured with The Button!

This article was inspired by a brilliant spoof mental health infomercial by VLDL (Viva La Dirt League). Before reading any further, I suggest you check it out. If you don’t laugh at some point this post probably won’t interest you. If you squirm a little, you’re in good company.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise if you decide to watch it later, but the basic idea is they’re selling a handy gadget — a big red button — to help when someone is struggling and comes to you for support. Why inconvenience yourself figuring out the right thing to say when a press of the button will generate exactly what your friend or loved one needs to hear? Needless to say, the button’s suggestions are hopelessly inadequate, inappropriate, or just plain daft.

Have you tried being more positive?

It could always be worse.

Happiness is a choice.

Have you tried chamomile tea?

It’s all just in your head.

Other people have it much worse than you

It’s a hilarious metaphor for not thinking, for saying whatever comes to mind, for brushing off our loved ones’ needs with a trite remark or useless suggestion that makes us feel better but doesn’t help them at all. It’s also excruciating, because at one time or another we’ve all done it. We’ve all said something dumb, unhelpful, dismissive, or unkind. We’d never say anything quite as bad as these cringe-worthy examples, of course. Except I have, and you probably have too.

No matter how aware we imagine ourselves to be, no matter how much we’ve been through ourselves and how many times we’ve been there for others, no matter how many courses we’ve taken or books we’ve read or (ahem) written, we’re still going to mess up. And that’s okay. The purpose of the video isn’t to make us afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing something that seemed good at the time but was ultimately unhelpful. It’s there to make us laugh, to give us pause, and remind us we can do better.

Some things are never going to be useful or appropriate, but none of us is perfect and we can’t always know what someone needs. The right thing to say to one person might be the wrong thing for someone else, or even for the same person under different circumstances. Messing up is okay, as long as we’re open to being told and prepared to learn from the experience. That’s something I’ve learned over the years with Fran and other friends. They’re not afraid to tell me if I’m not paying attention, if I get it wrong, or overstep the mark. I’ve written about some examples of this in the past in such posts as How to Be Honest without Losing Your Friends and Letting go.

There’s another serious point being made in the video, which is that sometimes we’re genuinely unable to respond to our friends and loved ones in the ways they need in the moment. This might be for any number of reasons. We may not have the physical or emotional resources to help. We may have conflicting priorities and commitments. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to manage our boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others. Being a good friend doesn’t mean dropping everything else, every time, at a moment’s notice. It does, however, mean treating our friends with care and respect, and being honest with them about what we can and can’t do for them. I’ve explored some of this previously in How to Be There for a Friend When No One Else Is.

The video also shines a light on the role of artificial intelligence in mental health support. The big red button is funny because its suggestions are ridiculous, but what if they weren’t? What if there was a big red button that got it right almost every time? There are a number of AI therapy apps on the market right now that offer emotional and mental health support. I’ve not tried any and can’t attest to their usefulness, but some people find them helpful and they’re likely to improve over time. Those I’ve read about are geared towards seeking help for yourself, but I wonder how long it will be before we have a big red button app on our phone to help us decide what to say to our friends and loved ones when they’re struggling? Out of interest, I asked ChatGPT the following question. The scenario is taken from the video.

Me: My friend just told me “I’ve just been really overwhelmed lately and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” How should I respond?

ChatGPT: It sounds like your friend is going through a tough time. You could respond with empathy, acknowledging their feelings and offering your support. For example, “I’m here for you. Would you like to talk about what’s been overwhelming you?”

I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s an improvement on the big red button, which suggested, “You should probably just exercise more.” I know you’d never say that to anyone, but what would you say?

When I first saw the video I thought it was hilarious but wasn’t sure how other people would respond. After all, humour is a very personal thing. Would they laugh or feel it was making fun of people living with mental health issues, their carers and loved ones? Before sharing it on social media I sent it privately to a few friends I knew would tell me if it was off-colour in any way. I needn’t have worried. Without exception they thought it was brilliant. It’s clear that others agree. The video has attracted over a million views on YouTube and hundreds of appreciative comments in the two years since it was posted.

Over to You

What do you think? If you’ve not watched it yet, here’s the link again. Have you ever said any of these things, or had them said to you? Maybe you feel a couple of them are okay under certain circumstances. If so, which ones? Which could you never imagine saying, no matter what the situation? How would you feel if someone you reached out to responded like that? Would you call them out them on it? What if there was a big red button app that got it right almost every time. Would you use it? Does AI have a role in helping us respond appropriately to someone in distress? Fran and I would love to hear what you think, either in the comments below or via our contact page.

 

Image by kjpargeter on Freepik.