6th February 2020 : Time To Talk Day
Mental Health. It affects us all in some way. Perhaps you’ve dealt with mental illness or mental health issues in the past, or perhaps you’re struggling with them now. Maybe you know friends/family that do. Perhaps you don’t have a diagnosed condition and you’re able to focus on managing your overall wellbeing and mental wellness on a day to day basis.
According to the Time To Change charity, 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health issue.
With chronic illness and/or pain, it can become a vicious cycle and of course each can be of detriment to the other. Health conditions may trigger or make worse the likes of depression, and it can be an incredibly isolating experience. When physical illnesses are invisible you’re facing a double whammy, because neither your illness/pain nor your mental health can be seen, felt or fully appreciated by those on the outside.
Chronic illness and pain can leave you feeling hopeless about the future, scared, frustrated, fed up, exhausted, resentful, or a plethora of other emotions, often all at once in a big mush that can be suffocating. It can also impact your self-image and confidence, and I’ve found this particularly to be the case having a stoma. It’s so important to prioritise self-care and wellbeing, both mental and physical. Don’t underestimate the impact chronic conditions can have on mental health.
While there has been a collective shift in social consciousness around mental health, much stigma and lack of understanding and knowledge remains. More has been done factor in mental health and protect individual rights in the workplace, in recruitment and in education, but there are still so many gaps and inequality is still evident. There are more charities offline and more support groups online, but mental health services, like those provided in the UK on the NHS, are oversubscribed and wait lists continue to increase. It’s not easy to access the services people need and this can, in tragically unfair situations, even be lethal.
I also think there’s a rather unhealthy glorification of being busy and being stressed in western society. If we’re not busy, we’re not successful. If we’re not exhausted, we’re not working hard enough. If we’re not depressed or stressed to our core, then we’re simply not worthy.
There’s more talk about mental illness and mental wellbeing and a greater emphasis generally around self-care, and yet it’s still so hard for so many to talk about their experiences or seek support.
Little by little, the situation changes. Be part of that change.
The way I see it, there are various aspects to mental health. For example :
- Diagnosed conditions, from anxiety and depression, to schizophrenia and bi-polar.
- Prescription medications. It’s not weak to need or benefit from the use of medications prescribed by your GP or specialist, and yet there’s still a degree of stigma and shame surrounding such medications. Professional therapy is often used on its own or in conjunction with medication, though this seems to have slightly less judgement attached to it than medications.
- The day to day mental health issues that can affect us all. Whether that’s stress or low mood, it’s part of the human condition.
- Management and self-care of day to day mental health. The ways in which all of us do or can deal with and support our own mental health and wellbeing. Diet, exercise, lifestyle changes. Meditation, distractions, talking to friends and family. Getting outdoors, getting stuck in to a hobby, practicing self-care. Treating ourselves or doing something fun we can enjoy.
- Supporting friends, family & loved ones with their mental health conditions. Whether more casual/informal support or as a carer, it’s important not to underestimate the impact mental health can have on those around them.
A few thoughts on opening up & talking about your mental health :
- Whether you talk to someone is a personal choice. It’s up to you. You choose who to tell, what to tell them, how much you want them to know. Don’t feel pressured.
- Test the water. If you’re sharing something and you’re not sure how someone may react, start off small and keep an open mind because you can’t control the responses of others.
- Have a little faith. Most people are compassionate, thoughtful and kind, whether they have any understanding of what you’re going through or not. Most will want to be there for you in whatever way they can. Most won’t judge or make you feel “less than” because of what you’re going through with your mental health.
- Loved ones often feel helpless, not knowing what to say or do. Let them know it’s okay, and try to suggest what would be helpful, now or in the future. Sometimes a person can be so scared of saying something ‘wrong’ that they say nothing at all, and we interpret that silence as rejection. Keep the dialogue open and try to empathise with how they may be feeling, too.
- … But be prepared for the worst, just in case. I say this because it’s not always rosy. It should be, but it isn’t guaranteed. I’ve had negative experiences and know first hand that not everyone is going to respond the way you’d hope they would. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge and general ignorance, rather than that person deliberately trying to hurt or offend. In some cases, the cliche of there being a generational gap may hold true, such as when talking to older family members. It’s certainly not always the case, but some may just be less aware of mental health and take a different perspective on it, having been raised and living their life in a different social climate with different understandings and expectations. Just saying “try not to take it personally” doesn’t really help, even if you know it’s not a personal reaction to you. Prepare yourself for any eventuality because the reaction of others is out of your control.
- For many, opening up a little and talking can feel like a huge relief. Carrying the burden of suffering on your back weighs heavier when you’re carrying it alone or trying to hide it away from the world.
- Please remember that as alone as you may feel sometimes, you’re not. Family, friends, colleagues, partners. Charities and services like Samaritans. And the online world, which can be such a blessing because you can more easily reach out and find countless people who ‘get it’, people who won’t judge and will be there to give you the support you need. We may feel alone, but we’re alone in this together.
- Know that you can handle whatever happens. Whether the outcome is supportive or otherwise, you can handle it.
- Every step counts. Every conversation matters. It’s only through action that social attitudes gradually start to change. It’s only through education and experience that the cultural climate becomes less ignorant and more compassionate. This is how barriers are crossed and taboo is broken down. It’s how prejudice, stereotypes and misconceptions are challenged, bit by bit. By talking, raising awareness, or being that person someone else can talk to, you’re part of making that positive change a reality.
[ Unfortunately the Time To Talk service ceased to operate in 2022 ]
You can also check out my post for the 2019 Time To Talk where I shared my experiences with mental health & sharing these with others – the good, bad & the ugly side to sharing.
Do you feel confident talking about mental health, either discussing your own or supporting someone else talking about theirs? Have you ever kept what you’re dealing with a secret for fear of sharing it?