#TEN. MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK. LET’S TALK.
One in four. That’s the statistic thrown at us by the campaigns we see on the posters at the doctor’s surgery. That’s the statistic given to us by our govt. website. Initially it feels quite a high number, right? One of myself or my three brothers will statistically have a mental health disorder in our lifetime. But let’s think about this a little deeper. These statistics come from people who present to their doctor’s surgery or their hospital with a mental health complaint. ONLY people who have reached out to their doctor or their hospital for help are included in this statistic. I could tell you a number of people who haven’t reached out for help and either did or didn’t find their way through it. I could tell you a lot more people who did reach out, but that’s most likely because I’m from a generation where it is becoming a whole lot less shameful to talk about anxiety or depression or PTSD or any other mental health conditions. There are generations of people, particularly older males, who wouldn’t even consider going to seek help for issues they may be having; in fact, many of these probably don’t even realise that what they are experiencing is anxiety or depression or another mental health disorder.
We all have different triggers to rattle our mental status. It might be an external situation is causing grief; work stress, relationship troubles, health troubles, loss of loved ones, fears and phobias, the lists go on. It doesn’t have to be something that is deemed as a ‘major’ life event either. We feel what we feel, and whilst it is important to not accept a life of mental health issues and just live with it, it is important to recognise what we feel, validate it and find our way through it. It could also be an organic thing; we may have a ‘perfect’ life, or at least a seemingly ‘perfect’ life, but that doesn’t mean that a chemical imbalance in the brain can’t occur and won’t occur and you may still wake up to your ‘perfect’ life and feel sad or feel anxious or feel deeply, deeply depressed. AND THAT’S OKAY. It is about learning what to do with these feelings that pulls us through; and what works for some won’t work for others, but that’s okay because there are so many avenues to look down; professional talking therapy, talking to a friend, medication, CBT, EMDR; again the list goes on. We must NEVER belittle what makes someone feel the way they feel; that is where shame begins and that negative cycle of self-hate and low self-esteem begins. We are all valuable in our own way, our mental health must be looked after and nurtured by ourselves and by those around us in order to bring out the best in each and every one of us.
I have had huge battles with mental health, particularly in the last eleven years since being physically unwell. One of my greatest achievements in my life is that I can talk freely about my mental health struggles without feeling shame and equally without feeling like it’s a brave thing to do. We should not be living in a world where a person expressing their feelings or their difficulties, on a mental level, is deemed as BRAVE. Would you tell someone with tonsillitis that they are brave for going to the doctors and getting antibiotics? I doubt it, so why are we all so quick to tell someone how brave it is? Let me tell you why. Because society, over the years, has frowned upon mental health issues. Because Mum’s have been brainwashed into believing that if they admit to struggling with depression after having children that their children will be taken away. Because the feelings associated with disorders such as depression and anxiety are negative ones, and negative thoughts bring about negative cycles and it never ends. It’s difficult to talk about our feelings for fear of being deemed as weak or incapable. For fear of people thinking we are ‘mad’ and that we bring too much baggage to the table.
THIS IS WRONG. I can’t tell you a single person in my life who I genuinely don’t believe has never had some level of depression or anxiety. It may be very mild and they may not have needed any external help to get through it, but that does not negate the fact they experienced it. IT IS NORMAL TO EXPERIENCE MENTAL HEALTH DIFFICULTIES IN LIFE. We perpetuate the shame inadvertently by telling someone that they are brave for voicing their troubles. We tell them they are brave which in itself is validating that what they are feeling isn’t normal, is otherwise seen as shameful, that they are making a stand against it. The way we normalise people getting help with their mental health isn’t through patting them on the back and congratulating them for getting help (which, by the way, seeking help IS the right thing to do), but it’s to open our arms, open our hearts and open our minds and say ‘what you feel is okay, it’s normal, it’s natural. How can I help you through it, what do you need?’
We need more open hearts in this world. Be that open heart; for yourself or for your loved ones, and you will see a change. And let’s not forget; nobody knows what a person feels behind their smile. Be kind, always.