Battle damage and silver linings

Serkan Avlik listens to the Brain Yapping podcast with Dr Dean Burnett and Rachel England, from the Cosmic Shambles Network.

Hosted by journalist Rachel England and neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett, the Brain Yapping podcast intertwines humour with scientific principles and anecdotes to scrutinise diverse topics. I have particularly enjoyed the episodes on voice distortion, culture shocking and misophonia. 

The podcast has recently evolved into Brain Yapping: Battle Damaged. Under this new title, listeners hear discussions surrounding mental health within the context of lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. Episodes have focused on topics such as living with trauma within trauma, the purpose of the fight-or-flight response and resilience in children. 

Tuning into these conversations has felt validating for me. Dean lost his father to Covid in April 2020, and his grandmother later on in October due to health problems arising from a severe stroke. As for Rachel, her long-standing battle with anxiety and depression has toughened with lockdown. I have also had instances of poor mental health during the pandemic, so I found these struggles and emotions immediately relatable. 

As a British Turk with a background in clinical psychology and mental health research, the podcast has enabled me to deeply question the impact of lockdown on myself and society. The episode on trauma hit me the hardest. Dean and Rachel underline the difficulty of seeking help, especially when the world is facing the same (physical and psychological) challenges. I couldn’t help but think about mental health professionals, currently overstretched in supporting their clients. What is done to protect their wellbeing during a pandemic? 

Dean expresses that he felt unable to communicate his grief properly due to the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred soon after losing his father. Respecting this global movement tackling racial inequality, Dean did not want to be perceived as a ‘relatively well-off successful white guy that wants to moan’ at others. Somewhat paradoxically, even I have felt a need to remain silent about my issues despite not having an ethnic privilege. I believe this stems from an unconscious fear of being judged by my ‘white’ co-workers and friends. This is because the media has given substantial coverage of the fact that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Thus, I did not want the 'white' people I knew to think ‘here goes another minority just repeating their problems, as if this hasn't been shouted at us enough by the media'.

Alongside examining the harsh realities of lockdown, Brain Yapping: Battle Damaged manages to instil hope too. For example, Rachel and Dean say that our collective experience of lockdowns may form the basis of new conversations, more open-minded around mental health. That could be a nice alternative to talking about the weather! The podcast also includes reassuring messages surrounding child wellbeing. Parent-child attachments can be strengthened due to spending increased time together, and exposure to (tolerable) stress levels within the household can boost resilience in children. Hopefully, this experience will leave children better able to cope with everyday stressors in the future. 

It is admirable that Rachel and Dean, two successful and well-known individuals, have come forward to reflect on their struggles during lockdown in the Brain Yapping: Battle Damaged podcast. We need more people like them to normalise mental health discussions. And Rachel and Dean’s frustrations regarding current affairs have driven them to be frank, a stance I admire. There’s something in this podcast for all of us; perhaps you might be able find new silver linings from sharing your ‘battle damage’ too?

- Find the podcast via https://cosmicshambles.com/brainyapping

Find much more Dean Burnett in our archive.

Reviewed by Serkan Avlik MSc, Founder of Psych This 370°, Twitter: @PsychViews

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