May 8th – 14th is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme from the Mental Health Foundation this year is “Surviving or Thriving”.
If you’ve ever suffered with poor mental health (and research proves most of us have, or know someone who has) then you’ll know what it’s like to find yourself in a place where chaos fills your head or darkness sets in, and you feel like you’re going round in a circle of nothingness.
It keeps you so busy (thoughts and feelings going round and round…) but it stops you from getting anything done. Getting washed and dressed is a chore and seeing other people is just too much. And even if you’ve been given a label to wear, like “suffering with anxiety”, that doesn’t mean you know what or where to go with that.
What makes these challenges worse, is that unlike a physical illness like the flu, people can’t always see by looking at you that you’re not well – especially if you’ve got pretty good at letting people know (or believe) that everything is fine.
If the people closest to you (at work or at home) aren’t educated about mental health (what it looks like and how to help) then unhelpful or inappropriate comments can make it harder to seek help from them.
Whether you’re stressed, anxious or depressed you may find yourself in survival mode – only just getting by – and the idea you can experience anything like joy, meaning or happiness (you know, when people tell you to “just think positive”) is laughable. So where do you go from there?
1) Acknowlege it. If your mental health isn’t where you feel it should be, there is no weakness in acknowledging that. Awareness is the first step to change and accepting that you can’t heal all on your own may be one of the most helpful things you can do – for yourself and those trying to help. If you had the flu, and it went on too long, you’d reach a point where you knew that seeing the doctor would be useful, if not essential. Think of it as emotional first aid, do what you can and then seek help from a professional. You’re not alone and help is available. Try acknowledging that and, whether it’s your doctor, a private therapist or the Samaritans there are people who will be glad to assist you. It’s okay to say.
2) Go online. The assumptions around mental health, (and stigma and judgements made of people with poor mental health), are changing. Thanks to organisations like Mind, Time to Change and partnerships like Heads Together, it’s becoming easier to ask for – and receive – help. There will always be people who don’t “get” mental health and that’s okay. Focus on your wellbeing and leave that particular battle for another day. Take a look at some of the resources already linked in this paragraph online and keep your doctor in the loop; they also have access to information about what’s available locally and what options they can recommend.
3) Educate others. Once you have some insight into your own mental health and what helps you, it can be helpful to share your experiences either within local peer support groups, family and friends or on a wider scale. Mind regularly asks people to blog for them (through videos, articles and social media) so you can get as involved as you want by spreading the message that #itsoktosay
Whether you or someone you know has poor mental health, here are some tips for talking from Heads Together.
Information and Resources:
“Be in your mate’s corner” video by Time to Change: https://youtu.be/3l8LpDitZvY
“Finding the words to ask for help” video by Mind: https://youtu.be/Dqb-n_L5hIA
Heads Together’s Tips for Talking: http://headstogether.org.uk/tipsfortalking
Samaritans: 116 123 (UK) http://Samaritans.org
Papyrus (preventing suicide in Young People): 0800 068 41 41 https://www.papyrus-uk.org/help-advice
Combat Stress UK Veterans Mental Health Charity: 0800 138 1619 http://combatstress.org.uk
The Calm Zone: (specifically for men) https://www.thecalmzone.net/help/get-help/
Mind information leaflets on different types of mental health: http://mind.org.uk
Cruse Bereavement Care: http://Cruse.org.uk