Obligatory #WMHD Post

Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All’, fitting given this year has been a strange one to say the least and the concept of mental health has been pushed into conversations and workplace / policy considerations much more frequently.

Today, as normal I’ve seen a variety of view points displayed across social media. From the ‘reach out if you need help’ type posts to practical tips, to posts arguing the topic needs to be focused on every day not just on specific occasions, that often when people do reach out they are poorly supported and all sorts of topics in between.

The truth is that, at this moment especially, mental health is a difficult subject.

It always has been. It’s difficult to really understand unless you’ve had some kind of experience and it’s difficult to know what to do to help yourself and others in the midst of a mental health crisis. It’s really one of those things where hindsight is an amazing thing. In the moment, advice, even if it makes sense to you, even if you know it’s right, is difficult to take or put into action. The very things that would make you feel better are the hardest things to do and ‘self care’ is difficult to practice in the worst moments.

Of course recovery is possible and once you learn how to help yourself when you are struggling it’s easier to identify early, if not stop, when you feel yourself slipping and makes it easier for you to anchor yourself in those moments. Sometimes that might mean doing things that seem weird to others (and even yourself) but that you know will help you short term get through rocky patches. I think people with longer term mental health struggles come to terms with the fact that sometimes you might come across as ‘odd’ with some of your habits because those habits just help keep you feeling well.

This year however there will have been a host of people who have struggled with their mental health, with anxiety or depression, for the first time. They might not even think what they are feeling is a mental health ‘thing’, feel like it’s something to just get through because of this year, feel bad because they’ve got it far better than lots of other people, feel weak because other people are coping just fine with all this pandemic stuff.

The truth is that in any other year that’s what lots of people think when they first start reacting to signs of depression or anxiety – I have no reason to feel these feelings, I’m weak, selfish and so on. I think adding a layer of ‘we’ve all been affected in one way or another’ into this whole situation of a year might actually make it harder for people experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

And talking about it is hard.

I openly talk about mental health – on here, on social media, I’ve spoken to lots of people about their mental health over the last five or six years and I believe it’s a really important thing to talk about all year round.

Talking about your own mental health struggles is hard.

I’m ok acknowledging when I’m struggling but much less likely to reach out and talk about it because I feel like it will bother people. It’s not that I’m not comfortable talking about it, it’s that I want to feel like the person I’m talking about it to wants to listen (this is probably an anxiety thing). So if someone knows I’m not having a great time but doesn’t ask how I am I’m less likely to bring it up as I’ll assume they don’t want to talk about it. Maybe I’m odd, but I actually think that scenario is quite common. I think lots of people who struggle want to talk, but they want to talk to someone who they know wants to listen.

So sometimes saying generically on social media I’m here reach out to me, whilst well meaning, isn’t enough to make someone do so. Equally within business, a company saying in emails come and speak to us if you have any concerns, whilst yes, technically an invitation, doesn’t actually encourage people to come forward and speak. What actually is likely to encourage people to open up is to approach individuals and ask how they are one to one, especially those you’ve noticed are quieter than usual or seem a bit ‘off sorts’. I’ll say from experience, for someone with anxiety in particular, to approach someone ‘cold’ and open up voluntarily requires a certain degree of trust and confidence that it will not all end up very badly (and we tend to think everything will end badly) so if you take anything from World Mental Health Day, I think knowing that being there for the people around you does not require public statements of commitment to the cause online, it just requires checking in on your friends and work colleagues and ensuring you are ‘open’ to being there if they need. And if someone does open up to you, understand they don’t expect you to have solutions or fix things, often just being able to talk without someone judging or laughing at you is more of a help than you think when you’re heads all over the place.

And if you’re the one not feeling great right now, it’s ok to ask for help, whatever the reason, and your local GP surgery will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate help so I’d urge you to contact them as generally these things are easier to learn to control the quicker you identify them and seek help.

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