Lifeline Tasmania manager, James Ryan, talks about current trends in mental health, building resilience and mindful mountain biking.Posted: 13/06/2023
James Ryan is the Program Manager at Lifeline Tasmania, managing the Training and Support Program. His team delivers mental health and suicide prevention workshops to community and workplaces all over the state.
We asked him to tell us a bit about what his role entails and why services like Lifeline are so important.
We deliver a range of workshops including Suicide Conversation Skills, Mental Health First Aid, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Psychological Safety for Executives, Workplace Life Skills Toolbox, Domestic Violence Prevention and more. We’ve done a lot of tailored workshops as well.
Working for Lifeline is incredibly meaningful, knowing we save lives. A waitress at a work function confessed that she calls Lifeline twice a year and that she was honoured to be our waitress. When I wear my Lifeline shirt into the city, heaps of people give me a knowing nod of approval. Guys in pubs secretly confess that they’ve struggled in the past and appreciate the work we do, or that their brother died by suicide, but Lifeline kept them going for a decade. Experiences like these bring tears to my eyes. I feel extremely grateful to be a part of this organisation.
Working for lifeline, what trends or changes have you noticed in the kinds of issues people are seeking support around?
We are hearing a common story in Tasmania and from around Australia – that the quantity of people reaching out for help is increasing and the quantity of their challenges is also increasing – if that makes sense. They are reaching out for assistance in a greater number of areas of their life. Stressors are coming from many directions, not just one or two.
We are receiving a lot of workshop inquiries from call centres. Their staff are receiving calls from customers threatening self-harm or suicide if their problems can’t be resolved. This is causing staff on the phones a great deal of stress. Another request we now regularly receive is to deliver some type of workshop that can bridge the divide between older workers and new, younger workers. There seems to be quite a wide divide between the values of previous generations and the generation just entering the workforce, and it is causing loads of friction in work environments.
When we spoke, you talked about being a ‘mindful mountain biking coach’ – can you talk about what this is and how it works?
As anyone who has ever ridden a mountain bike knows, mountain biking is an endless learning opportunity. However, there is a fundamental problem when humans learn physical skills and that is the over-involvement of language-based instructions. Language uses words – which are symbolic and need interpretation into muscular movement patterns. Much better to see and feel what to do.
Mindful MTB is all about noticing what the body is doing and what result occurs (without judging outcomes as good or bad). As a coach, I use words to help someone direct their attention to a part of their body that is relevant to the skill being performed. Notice where you are looking as you enter the corner. Where in the corner did you let your brakes off? Out of ten, how light were your hands as you left the drop? Were you breathing in or out as you approached the jump? Which works best for relaxed jumping?
Keeping attention on the elements of the body teaches the body how to do the skill in a way that works for that body. Our bodies are incredibly smart. There is lots more to say about this way of coaching, but you will have to wait for my book to come out.
In your experience, how important is spending time in nature, and exercise, for mental health?
One of my favourite ways to spend time in nature is to go snorkelling – I spend a lot of the time just floating and I think that is the key to recharging in nature – just stop moving. Plonk yourself down or move slowly. Close your eyes and let everything go. Go by yourself if you feel safe. Check out Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell and take your own inner child forest bathing.
And exercise is essential for wellbeing, especially for generating those good feelings within us, but also for processing emotions. You never run so far as when you’re angry, and you usually get home feeling better. Emotions and ruminative thinking get processed by the act of moving our bodies vigorously. Don’t carry extra mental emotional baggage if you don’t have to – it’s not good for you, your children, your relationship, or anyone. Staying a bit more peaceful and centred is one small thing we can all do to help the world.
You mentioned worked in lots of schools talking about how to build resilience. What would be your key tips for people wanting to support children to increase resilience?
Describe your internal narrative to children so they get to understand that we all have an internal world that is full of words and stories. For example, you might tell them, ‘I got angry because I had a story running in my mind saying they should behave the way I want them too. But, they actually had a good reason for behaving the way they did. Now that I understand more, I feel calmer and not angry at them. I need to apologise.’ Describe the internal processes for making responsible choices, so they can be ‘seen’ by children. Doing this also makes us adults more self-aware and that can’t hurt!
Don’t expect children to be little adults, they’re clearly not. Let children be who they are meant to be. I believe in the Genius idea – that we are all born with special gifts and talents that we are meant to bring to the world. Imagine the world if we all focused on supporting (especially economically) everyone to live their Genius – whether poet, surgeon, manager, teacher, botanist, or inventor. In terms of resilience, people come alive when they are deep in their gifts, and they whither when they removed and blocked from expressing those gifts. Aren’t you?
Lastly, I think that human life is very deep and that our dominant lifestyle is not. Most children I’ve worked with are passionate for discussions on the universe, ghosts, God, dreams, quantum foam, aliens, death, reincarnation and other mysteries. Human life is truly mysterious, so adults that shut these discussions out, shut down a large part of what makes us human, and I think that creates an impediment to wellbeing and resilience.
You also mentioned you recommended the use of The Bears cards to talk about resilience. Can you describe how you used The Bears (or why you recommended them) in this context?
I used The Bears cards to assist children to recognise and name emotions. However, I enjoyed using the cards differently too. Look at the card, cover it, now draw the emotion. Pick a card that represented how you felt as you imagined that big, hairy, angry spider crawled up your leg. Which card shows how you think your mum feels most days? Put three cards together that tell the story of what happened after school yesterday.
There are infinite possibilities, limited only by the time we have to think creatively. Now that I’ve started thinking about how I can use these cards with my current training and support team… I feel creative.
If you could give three pieces of advice to people who are supporting someone using the cards, what would they be?
- Be patient. There is no rush. Let the river flow naturally.
- Practice generating and remembering good questions. Just a few really good ones.
- Trust your instincts. We all have quite a good internal radar. If you have a good intent, trust yourself.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I sometimes just browse your catalogue to kick-start my creativity.
And thank you to all who are involved, and have ever been involved, in the creation, development and bringing into reality of all the products you produce, you’ve made an enormous contribution to the world.