By Virginia Thomas-Pickles, GLOBUS Correspondent
2020 was a difficult year, taking a huge toll on the mental health of so many people. Data published by the Office of National Statistics shows the British population felt increased anxiousness, reduced life satisfaction, and reduced happiness since the beginning of the pandemic when compared to pre-pandemic data.
This is especially true for students, with 73% seeing a decline in their mental health due to lockdowns. This is not surprising given the current uncertain, challenging times we face, where many of us are studying from our bedrooms and have reduced, if any, in person contact with our friends and family. In such difficult times, having something to listen to can really help keep you relax and unwind. Plus, it can be comforting to hear other people talk about their mental health challenges, showing you are not alone in your struggles.
This is where the Phone a Friend Podcast comes in.
I first discovered this podcast back in April, and knew straight away it would become a weekly listen. It is open, honest, and sprinkled with humour! Hosted by George Ezra and his friend Ollie McKendrick, their episodes start by asking a simple question- ‘how are you?’, and the conversation unravels from there. Asking somebody how they are is so simple and commonly done, but all too often many of us brush the answer off as ‘I’m okay’ or ‘I’m fine’ and leave it there. But some of the time, we simply aren’t ‘okay’ or ‘fine’ – and that is what this podcast explores.
It is so refreshing to hear two people being completely open about how their week has been, the challenges they have faced, and how they have dealt with them. This is so important to increase awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Adding to this, in each episode they read out listener emails, where people write in to share their own experiences and the coping mechanisms they have learnt. Many also express thanks to Ollie and George for creating such an honest podcast that helps destigmatise mental health, normalising that it is okay if you are not okay, and that talking to people about how you feel can really help.
The podcast’s reviews reiterate such positive feedback, noting how it has made people feel that they are not alone in the struggles they face. On top of this, hearing George and Ollie talk about their personal struggles has helped people understand the challenges members of their friends and families face, and how they can better help them. By raising awareness and increasing understanding about mental health, this podcast contributes to Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). This goal is called Good Health and Wellbeing, with target 3.4 aiming to promote mental health. This shows that there is so much more to mental health promotion than large scale campaigns, and that smaller projects are equally effective.
It is worth noting that Ollie lives in Barcelona, whilst George resides in the UK. This gives an extra layer to their conversation, as it shows distance is no barrier to reaching out to people. Plus, it has meant over periods of lockdown they have had different experiences and been able to help each other out. For example, Barcelona went into a stricter lockdown earlier than the UK. So, Ollie was able to give George (and the listeners) advice about filling time in lockdown, and also reassure them that it is completely fine if they are finding it tough and have no motivation to do anything. In many episodes, they also discuss student mental health during lockdowns and hear from students about how they are getting through this time.
Alongside talking about how they are feeling, they have also raised money for Mind, so more people can benefit from the amazing work the charity does. This charity supports individuals with mental health problems, and also helps raise awareness to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, which further contributes to target 3.4 of SDG 3. To do this, they completed a Move for Mind Challenge in September, completing alternating days of running and yoga throughout the month. As I am writing this, George and Ollie’s challenge has raised £12,458 for Mind! Coupled with raising money, this challenge helped promote the benefits of exercise for your mental health. Ollie talks about how his exercise routine is limited, and how running has helped boost his mood, making it something he hopes to continue doing in the future. By being so honest and relatable, Ollie inspired many listeners to have a go at a form of physical activity like he did.
This podcast’s simple format, combined with the openness and relatability of its hosts, is one positive step forward in the destigmatisation of mental health. I hope this brief overview of the Phone a Friend Podcast has convinced you to give it a listen (available here). But more than this, I hope it highlights the importance of checking in on your friends and family, especially during the difficult times we currently face. And it all starts with one simple question- ‘how are you?’.