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Time to watch out for a friend in need

Is now the winter of our discontent? On the face of it, there is plenty to be gloomy about. After months of lockdown and restrictions on our freedoms of movement, crushing economic consequences and health concerns for family and friends, it would be forgivable to feel down and glum.

We all do, from time to time. That’s human nature. The difference between feeling down and a mental health issue comes when you are struggling to cope with the gloom – when despondency becomes your primary driver and happiness seems a long way off.

Money, or rather worries over it, can be a serious component of depressive illness. And, let’s face it, who hasn’t worried about money in the last few months? I can tell you all this as someone who has endured a lifetime of periodic bouts of severe depression.

Because I make no secret of this, three friends have reached out to me in the last six months suffering from what I call the Black Cloud – the all-enveloping sense of hopelessness and gloom which infests your thoughts and drives back your enthusiasm for everyday life.

Depressive illness has no respect for age, social background, wealth, gender, race or creed. It can, and will, statistically, hit one in four of us at some stage during our adult lives. Six years ago, I lost my best friend to it.

Mental health is not a stigma or anything to be ashamed of (though symptomatically – sufferers tend to feel ashamed). It is an illness and like most other illnesses, it can be cured.

One of those friends is a recently retired engineer, another a successful journalist and the other a crown servant. They range in age from mid 30s to early 60s, all are fit and otherwise healthy. Only one of them has ever endured a mental health issue before.

And they have done exactly the right thing. They have reached out. By doing so you are on the first step to recovery – you have owned up.

This is a time when we are vulnerable – particularly as the winter sets in – and we must all watch out for each other.

There is a well-established process for this. It’s called ALGEE. And ALGEE is the way you help a friend in need.

The acronym stands for:

ASSESS - for risk of suicide or harm
LISTEN – don’t judge
GIVE – reassurance and information
ENCOURAGE – appropriate professional help
ENCOURAGE – other supports, like self-help.

The Family Building Society has long been a proponent of the ALGEE principle when training its staff to watch out for each other, which in turn makes them more aware of the subject when dealing with the world at large. Sufferers can easily become confused about what would normally be an easy decision to make about everyday finances.

They can also be rash – spending freely, and easily panicked into not making any decisions at all, even if the bailiffs are at their door.

I’ll let one of the Family Building Society’s own staff, who has been through the training programme, tell the story.

She said: “I was aware of mental health issues but really surprised at the wide variety of issues. I was also really surprised that an average period of depression can last six-eight months, I had thought it was much shorter.

“I am now aware sufferers can have irrational thoughts; feeling hopeless or unable to cope; extreme behaviour and even suicidal tendencies.

“Treat the person as an individual. Be non-judgemental and use the ‘ALGEE’ steps to support them where possible. Look after yourself too as a Mental Health First-Aider.”

So take care out there and remember, the Family Building Society is here to help with a financial issue if you want us.


Written by Steve McDowell

The content of this blog is Steve McDowell’s personal opinion and comment, and views expressed here are his and unless specifically stated, are not those of Family Building Society. The content on this page is not intended to be advice in any circumstances.