Colette Sheridan: Small talk can lighten up lives in these isolating restricted times

Now that we’re living restricted lives, with little social contact, it's important to be friendly and have a few words with the service providers in our lives, so says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Colette Sheridan: Small talk can lighten up lives in these isolating restricted times

Hairdressers are usually adept at making small talk — and such interactions can be important in the current climate. Picture: Stock

MAKING small talk with your hairdresser is an effort for some. And I’ve often wondered about the supposedly wide-ranging role of hairdressers, who are often described as unofficial counsellors, listening to the woes of their clients and offering sage advice.

Does anybody actually open up to their hairdresser about, say, being heartbroken because of the end of a relationship? Would you not be worried about the other clients overhearing your sorry story?

Some people have a real problem making chit-chat with service providers. They really don’t want to be asked by their hairdresser whether they’re going out tonight or if they have any plans for the weekend.

My guy has always dispensed with chatter about social life, even when we had social lives back in pre-Covid times. He cuts to the chase, talking about politics, films, TV programmes and the media (about which he can be quite critical.)

I do my bit to defend the media and if the chat gets too heated, I say something conclusive and take out my book. (I’ve been known to read Beckett at the hairdressers. It’s a real conversation stopper!)

A barber in Dublin has recently added a new ‘silent treatment’ option so that clients can opt out of talking. When you book, you’re given the choice of a chit-chat free visit. The salon is called ‘Neighbour Threat’ and it’s all about discretion.

Not everyone is up for banal talk or even heartfelt disclosure. Sometimes you just want to flick through magazines and chill. Or earwig on the client next to you if you’re nosey.

But now we’re living restricted lives, with little social contact if we’re playing by the Covid rules, it’s actually important to be friendly and have a few words with our super-market check-out person and all the other service providers in our lives.

They are the ones that are taking a risk, dealing with the public, in an atmosphere of potential contagion. Those of us who only have to interface with a laptop and a phone in our working lives, at home, are privileged. Apart from the fact that we’re lucky to be working, we’re not exactly on the front line.

But we are quite isolated, as are elderly neighbours, missing hugs and fun with their grandchildren. Not to mention people in nursing homes who are feeling deprived of company, having to settle for phone contact.

Whatever about your views on lockdowns, nobody can deny that they wreak havoc with our mental health.

In trying to weigh up considerations such as maintaining a functioning economy while safe-guarding the nation’s health, our politicians have difficult decisions to make. Either way, it seems they can’t win.

It is devastating for the hospitality sector that it is barely allowed to function. How many restaurants are finding it viable to only serve 15 people outdoors? And we’ve heard all about the cancelled weddings.

But health is surely more important than revelry? Mental health is taking quite a battering in these strange times.

In its pre-Budget submission, Mental Health Reform (MHR), a coalition representing 75 organisations in the community and voluntary sectors, has called on the government to make an additional €80m available for the country’s mental health services. This is to help the system deal with increasing demands for treatment as a result of the pandemic.

According to MHR, its members report that thousands more people are looking for mental health support during the pandemic and there’s a crying need to boost capacity across the sector.

Child and adolescent mental health services have had significant increases in referrals since Covid-19 broke out.

It’s a particularly challenging time for young people who need to interact with their peers.

The chief executive of MHR, Fiona Coyle, has pointed out that part of the problem is due to successive governments failing to provide adequate resources for the country’s mental health services.

She said that, with the pandemic causing isolation, loneliness and anxiety, Ireland’s mental health services need “to be prioritised and placed at the very heart of Covid-19 recovering planning”.

Both the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have warned that a serious public mental health crisis is on the cards unless mental health is taken seriously.

In the meantime, it costs nothing to be friendly.

At my local post office, which has been taken over by a new manager and is being refurbished, the woman behind the desk wouldn’t charge me for an envelope and a photocopied page. I think she’s getting rid of old stock. It was a nice gesture and we chatted briefly.

We may be masked up but we can still take time to talk to the people in our community including service-providers.

It’s surely the mark of a civilised society that we engage with the people who smoothen our lives.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more