After four months and 25 stops, the inaugural Foolish Optimism tour is coming to an end. It has been a fascinating journey for everyone involved. We have met so many wonderful people from different walks of life who have shared their stories and experiences with us, culminating in the Foolish Optimism tour report which will be released later this month. In the meantime, project participant Marc Ferguson has collected some of his own personal reflections on the tour to share with you.
This tour has been important to me in so many ways. I have met people who I can call friends for life; reconnected with old friends; and learned more about myself than I could have imagined in such a short space of time. I am so grateful to everyone who has participated in the tour. Your stories have already had an immeasurable impact, and we have really only just begun. It’s no exaggeration to say that this experience has accounted for around 50% of my healing to date. Shared experiences are incredibly powerful.
The Importance of Variety
When we started planning the tour, we had a lengthy debate about what kind of events to run. There were two main ideas: Involve 3rd party organisations to run partnered events; or run more intimate events with our own people. We actually did a lot of both, and it worked out really well. We had intimate chats in a room with five of our friends, and palpable emotion in a meeting room with 20 work coaches at Perth Job Centre. I think having viewpoints from across the board really helped us paint a picture of the mental health landscape in Scotland. While we were chiefly interested in collecting stories directly from young people, it would be foolish not to consider the context in which these stories are formed.
United by Technology
At the beginning of the tour, we all had this preconception that we would hear vastly different stories from different parts of the country, especially since we were going to remote communities like the Outer Hebrides. What surprised us was that the story was pretty much the same everywhere. The influence of the internet has created a sort of shared generational understanding that transcends location.
Young people are pretty clued up about mental health, but they are not necessarily learning about it at school. This is both encouraging and worrying. It’s obviously a positive trend that attitudes towards mental health are more open and understanding, but if this information is not coming from educators, then you have to wonder about its source and validity. When you add the pressures of social media to appear like everything is going great, it can be very tough for young people to understand themselves and their place in the world.
A Shared Humanity
My main takeaway from all of this is that we should redress the balance in focus between what makes us unique, and what makes us the same. Of course, it is important to establish your identity as a young person – to find out who you are, what your passions are, who you love, and what kind of life you want to live. But it’s equally important to recognise that you are on the same journey as everyone else around you, and to respect the fact that it’s just as terrifying and exciting for them as it is for you.
To schoolchildren specifically: You are often taught that bullying is wrong, but perhaps not in great detail why it is so wrong. Let me give you my perspective. Everyone around you is trying to figure out who they are, and what they want from life. By bullying someone, you are denying them the breathing space to discover what kind of person they want to be. They could end up being someone very important to you. They could even be the person who is there for you when you need it the most. All you have to do is give them that chance…or more accurately, not deny them that chance.
Looking to The Future
In many ways, the tour has raised more questions for us than answers. The biggest question is…what do we do about all of this? Thanks to the relationships we have developed along the way, we have a bunch of promising leads, and we truly hope that this is just the beginning. Once again, I want to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved so far, and invite you to contact me if you want to know any more about the work we are doing, or think you can help in any way. I would love to hear from you.
Samaritans offer a free listening service for anyone who is struggling to cope. There is no age restriction, and you don't have to give them any personal details if you don't want to. You can call them free in the UK on 116 123.
Mindfulness is a useful technique for dealing with anxiety in your day-to-day life. It helps you to stay present in the moment and not retreat into your own mind, where anxiety can take over. Find out more about mindfulness from Mindfulness Scotland.
Habitica is an app which can help you keep on top of your day-to-day responsibilities. By setting and completing small tasks, you can unlock rewards, upgrades and even pets! Mental health challenges can often impact your daily routine, and having a rewarding way of keeping track of your successes can be very helpful.