It’s okay not to be okay.
When I first started working in mental health, (some 10 years ago now), I worked with women experiencing ante-natal depression – depression during pregnancy. They’d often start by telling me one of the hardest things was telling family and friends they felt depressed. Usually, the response they got was along the lines of “what have you got to be depressed about?”. What made that harder was, often, the person suffering didn’t have an answer to that. It’s one of the reasons it can be so hard talking about how we feel, if we can’t say why. Poor mental health sometimes doesn’t have a story line, at least not one you can put your finger on straight away. And our emotional and spiritual health is just as important to our overall wellbeing, as our physical health.
We are a solution-focused crowd, us humans. When someone says they have a problem, our tendency is to try and fix it straight away or at least offer a suggestion of what worked with someone we know – because we just want to help. As helpful as we think it may be, it rarely is. The person suffering may not be able to pin down what’s caused their low mood or anxiety and it can take a while to figure out a pathway for getting better. There isn’t usually an ‘easy fix’ and they’re not likely to feel better overnight. (One woman told me that she’d told someone she had depression in pregnancy and was told to “get her hair cut, because that makes women feel better”. Um, no – no it doesn’t.)
All of us are under pressure to feel ‘okay’ all the time. People fall under scrutiny – or stigma – when they’re not. We all have good days and bad days, and sometimes it’s okay to just go home, close the door and go back to bed. (I’m partial to a Jaffa Cake on those days). But it becomes unhealthy when the choice is made to withdraw completely, avoid people and resist help of any kind, particularly if you’re living with a noisy mind (and it feels like there are no, or very few, choices).
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The research is telling us that poor mental health is becoming a global problem both for adults and children, with 20% of children and adolescents around the world affected before the age of 14. The stigma associated with poor mental health creates a barrier for many people – young and old – but we do know that talking about how we feel is a positive pathway to recovery.
Here’s some ideas which might help:
- Have a chat with your doctor if you’ve been noticing that you’ve been low, stressed or anxious for a while (maybe two weeks or more). Below is a video from Mind which offers tips on how to talk to your GP about your mental health. You may find articles like this about anxiety useful or different interventions like Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). You may also find it helps talking with a friend and if they make unhelpful comments or suggestions (probably with good intentions) about what they think you need, give them some tips based on the paragraph below on what you think you do.
- If you know someone who is suffering with poor mental health, acknowledge that’s how it is. They’re not making it up and if they could ‘snap out of it’ they would. Ask them what would help: it might be practical support (like help with shopping), some company going for a walk, or it might just be a cup of tea and an ear to bend. They might not know what they need, but sometimes just holding space with someone, being there, is actually enough. As a good friend, do what you can but remember you may also need support from time to time, so it’s good for you to off load now and then too.
- Keep talking. Whether you’re someone who is suffering right now or someone trying to help, keep the door open. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to someone straight away, you may wish to contact an organisations like the Samaritans.
You can also access free resouces including the Sparkle Repair Kit™ – a small but mighty eGuide containing top tips, worksheets and a Mindful Mandala to colour in, when you subscribe to the Sparkle mailing list. You’ll also receive regular, positive mojo, straight to your inbox. If you’d rather not subscribe you can buy the Sparkle Repair Kit™ here for just £5. You’ll be directed to the eGuide as soon as you’ve made your payment. Over to you.