Silent Disco

Before the world went into lockdown my wife arranged a child free weekend for us in London which included spending the night at the silent disco in The Shard.

The concept being three DJ’s, Red, Blue and Green, battling it out to get the most listeners, with the headphones glowing Red, Blue or Green to indicate who you were listening to. Like most nights the party started tentatively, it takes a while to get people onto a dance floor and a little longer when you are actually wearing headphones in a silent room, but soon enough everyone was dancing albeit not to the same tune. As you went through the night you would hear bad singing of a great song coming from other people and you would look over and see their headphones glowing a different colour to yours and change to their channel to experience their playlist, the battle was on.

My experience at the silent disco brought me a perspective on how isolation can have a significant impact on mental health

On nights out the trip to the bar is often filled with the frustration of trying to shout your order over the volume of the music and hoping that what gets served is close to what you wanted. It was totally opposite in the silent disco, you would simply take off your headphones and talk normally to the bartender. For someone like me still, almost young enough that I can imagine going out to party if I want to but old enough to not want to shout to be heard by everyone I meet, this was a revelation! I had a choice of music and an option for no music, I could be fully in the party or in the room observing with headphones off but while great for me there was one person in the room who was totally left out, and that was the bartender who had no music to listen to and was excluded, on the sidelines until someone decided to speak with them.

Mental health is a complex subject, poorly understood by many, myself included, but my experience at the silent disco brought me a perspective on how isolation can have a significant impact on mental health.

Cities are notoriously lonely. I, like many people, commute to and move through a city with headphones on, playing a range of music or podcasts that either reflect, focus or change my mood at the time. I’m comfortable in this bubble but my headphones don’t glow red for ‘happy’, blue for ‘relaxed’ or green for ‘thinking’, and as a result no one can guess my playlist. Similarly, I, probably like everyone else in the city, am completely unaware of anyone else's playlist and typically pay little attention to whether someone wears or does not wear headphones.

Financial services can be equally lonely. Even though I’ve been in sales for twenty years I sometimes find networking uncomfortable, breaking into an existing group or enjoying a conversation beyond the formalities doesn’t always come naturally. I sometimes marvel at those with this skill innate as they breeze through networking with an impressive ease. I worked with a salesperson earlier in my career whose networking and rapport building skills second to none, so much so that it seemed that they’d never met a stranger, but now having known them for some time and I know that these skills mask their challenges, they have moments of doubt and even with their endless contacts they can sometimes feel isolated.

The challenge of isolation has been exacerbated by the forced home working of the last 18 months, and for some breaking that cycle is going to be tough.

I’ve been back into the office a few times over the last few weeks, and it’s been a pleasure. Working from home efficiency arguments can take a back seat because I feel a benefit from human interaction, impromptu conversations about work or social and a general buzz of noise but not everyone is like me.

The challenge of isolation has been exacerbated by the forced home working of the last 18 months, and for some breaking that cycle is going to be tough. Now that we are beginning to see the green shoots of freedom it’s paramount that we check that no one is left behind. Every day we all experience different moods, highs and lows but for some the lows come more frequently and for others, like the bartender in the disco, the world can be a lonely place where you might feel excluded all together. It’s time to check in with the people we haven’t seen in person for some time. We are all at the same party and often listening to different music, but let’s make sure we take our headphones off and have some human conversations.

If things are getting tough for you and it’s not been easy (or possible) to talk, a quick chat with these folks could help. It may not be the solution to everything but it’s a good place to start.