As we come out of lockdown and what must have been possibly one of the toughest periods in our lifetimes, I felt that it would be the right time to spread awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
I decided to fundraise for SAMH through a hair raising (a head shave to support a good cause) on 21 August, when I read about the work they have been doing in the community for mental health. I have also donated the hair (about 13 -14 inches long) to the Little Princess Trust which will hopefully be used for making wigs.
I have been a part of the UKHE, first as a PhD researcher and then as a PostDoctoral Research Fellow. I had a challenging PhD experience, which took a toll on my mental wellbeing. On top of the usual research pressure, there was the stress from a change of research direction that came with a change of supervisors after my first year and the ensuing processes. There was also the administrative overhead as an international candidate. The combined stress exacerbated by the incessant pressure to perform left me physically exhausted and began affecting my skin in the form of rashes and allergies, and my alimentary system. Even though I am normally a resilient person, I had to be signed off work for a week by my GP towards the end of the programme. It was around that time that I started growing my hair, perhaps as method of grounding myself. Quite recently, I experienced a similar situation at work when I had to take a few days off to recover from an incident.
Speaking to my mentor, my line manager, Samaritans and counselling services was helpful in getting me back on my feet. Besides talking, I found two books ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk and ‘The Little Book of Conflict Transformation’ by John Paul Lederach very helpful. During both experiences, I had support from my family and the university chaplaincy. I also undertook a CBT course and talking therapy to help deal with the negative impact of these experiences. Participating in worship at St Machar’s and King’s College Chapel were also both therapeutic for me. I learnt from my experiences, that it is important not to take the blame for another person’s behaviour, which has impacted me negatively, and that it is OK to speak out when you’re feeling down and out.
Our mental health and wellbeing are very important. Even though each of us has our own individual journeys, we are not alone in this journey. It is OK to reach out for help when we feel overwhelmed, and I hope that this message can be shared widely. After the head shave, I can feel that my head has become lighter both literally and metaphorically. Perhaps this head-shave is a symbolic act of inserting a section break between past experiences and the future.
I have raised about a quarter of my target for and am hoping to reach the target soon. If you would like to donate, please visit my JustGiving page.
Dr Vivek Chacko