What does it mean to be well?

Recently I had the privilege of running a wellbeing workshop at the annual Onelife conference. Onelife exists to equip and connect young people and students to become leaders in every sphere of society. When I was asked to put something together something for the conference I was initially a little daunted. I’m used to presenting to largely middle aged patients with, or at risk of, long term health conditions. My Chemical Romance had it right when they sang about how scary teenagers are, and I was required to face a whole room of them, to provide them with something useful and hopefully emerging with my dignity intact.

At the beginning of the day I stood up in the main conference and pitched my session to the delegates, as they had a choice of three. As I sat in the seminar room afterwards, I wasn’t sure how many would actually turn up. I thought that the other sessions sounded a bit more exciting than mine. I steeled myself for the sort of numbers that would result in a session best described as “intimate” or “cosy”. Eventually they began to trickle in. I got chatting with a few people and when I looked up to start the session, the room was full, with people finding space on the floor after they ran out of chairs.

My nightmare scenario had been that I would end up lecturing a room full of bored and baffled adolescents all wondering who had dug up the crusty middle aged guy rabbiting on sleep and about the evils of social media. Instead, I encountered a room of people who were really switched on, passionate about leading and serving, and interested in not just their wellbeing but also that of others.

We talked about how we define wellbeing individually and collectively, what made each of us feel well and what we might like to improve. We discussed being well in Body, Mind & Soul…and how it is artificial to divide the physical, mental and spiritual if we truly wish to be well and fit for whatever purpose we have in life. We focussed on some key areas including sleep, physical activity and the use of technology & social media. I was impressed by how many were already taking positive steps to promote their wellbeing. Discussions were animated and plenty of questions were asked. After doing briefly dipping into behavioural psychology and the principles of behavioural change, I asked the group to draw up wellbeing plans together so that they could encourage and hold each other accountable.

Reflecting on the day afterwards, I never really needed to be concerned. My audience was largely self selecting. They were a group of young people who had chosen to be there, interested in exploring their faith and sharing a desire to grow as individuals and to lead and serve others. It was enjoyable and rewarding to be part of this. Feedback about the wellbeing workshop was very positive. Hopefully it will serve as starting point for some of the delegates and help them to look after themselves and others as they grow into the leaders that I believe many of them will be.

The challenge that this throws up for me, and indeed for all of us involved in providing care and encouraging self-care, is how to reach those who may have even greater needs, less awareness of them and fewer opportunities to be supported in addressing these issues. The inverse care law states that those most in need of assistance with their health may also be the least likely to seek this assistance. Speaking for myself, it inspires me to try a bit harder in my consulting room. Of all the things that we can invest in as a society, how many are more important than helping someone still in the early stages of their life journey to think about what it means to truly be well?