World Mental Health Day this year is focusing on suicide prevention, there’s some useful downloads on their website about this topic for a variety of situations and it’s worth a read (website link below).
There are two school’s of thought with ‘days’- mental health, women’s day and so on. Yes – in an ideal world we wouldn’t need specific days to remind people are inequalities and reduce stigma. We don’t live in an ideal world though and what these days do is start conversations – some of those conversations may well be forgotten tomorrow sadly, but for some the onslaught of coverage on one day could set in motion the impetus to make a change- either for someone specifically affected or in making someone more mindful.
There’s so much that I could write about today- from personal experience but I’ll limit this blog to three brief things I think worthy of being mindful of if you know someone who is currently struggling with any mental health condition.
It can be frustrating for those around someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. Often you try and help and feel like you’re being met with resistance at every turn. These illnesses are not logical though and as well meaning as your advice may be you might not get the reaction you hope for. You can offer the most practical and solid advice in how someone might feel better but self care is hard when you are really ill and even though it’s the thing that will help it can feel practically impossible to do. As frustrating as that may be for you believe me the person affected will be equally, probably more frustrated and knowing those around them are frustrated can just add to the difficulty of climbing out of a hole.
If you know someone who is struggling, be there for them, offer an ear, even offer advice, but accept you can’t fix it and you may feel like you repeat yourself a million times before anything lands. Don’t take that personally – you being there is probably helping even if it feels like it isn’t. If someone is suicidal, as much of an impact and stress that will place on you and others around them- remember the stress they feel to get to that point is far greater- frustration and anger are normal and understandable responses but when people get ill they aren’t doing it to piss people off or make life hard for others, get time off work or get attention.
From my own experience when I went back to work after being off for a long time due to mental health issues I found it really hard and one reason for this was there was no understanding of mental illness in the way there would be for a physical illness. The procedures in place just didn’t work for managing what was wrong with me. I’m lucky I have a good manager who took time to listen to me and understand and that helped me settle back in, but at first it was really hard because I felt like I was having to fight against a system at a time when I really didn’t have the capacity to do so. It took me to bite the bullet ask for a conversation and try and explain.
You can understand in situations like this how so many people fall between the gaps and end up unemployed, isolated and feeling like there’s no way out. It’s easy to drop out the system (if you stop going to the doctors because you really just can’t face anything they don’t chase you up for instance), you can have to jump through hoops to get help but often have no motivation to do so. You actually have to fight to get help (or have someone fight for you) and often you just can’t when your ill. You may lose your job because your company doesn’t recognise mental illness as a genuine illness and not have the capacity to fight that.
These situations could be improved with education. I don’t just mean companies educating their staff to understand mental illness, I mean in some cases companies themselves need to understand better how mental illness can affect staff and how best to handle it at a variety of stages- both preventative measures, catching signs of problems early on and dealing with the aftermath of serious issues.
Today is about making people aware of the importance of mental health, of being open about discussing it- because more people than you would ever anticipate will be affected to varying degrees over their lifetime. Being aware everyday is important though. If you notice that a friend or a colleague doesn’t seem quite right you haven’t got to have a conversation with them if you don’t feel comfortable. It might be mentioning your concern to someone closer to them who could check in on them. But equally it could be dropping them a message or calling them for a chat, inviting them for a coffee or lunch, anything to connect with them. You know that thing we call being nice, letting people know they have people around them. On a day to day individual basis that can be the thing that makes the difference, and because you never really know how much people are struggling making not being a dick a general life rule is probably the best way to help others maintain good mental health, not least because you never know what sort of things could affect someones so something you say in passing which means nothing to you could affect that person for hours even days after.