If you’ve spent any time on social media this week then you’re probably aware that it is Mental Health Awareness week.
So, what does that mean exactly?
Well, it means that it’s one week out of 52 where people can talk openly about their feelings without any risk of stigma or ridicule.
But, why do we need a special week?
That is a very complicated question with a very simple answer. Because we live in a society where it is frowned upon to show weakness
We live in a society where it’s acceptable to complain about an ingrown toenail or enquire about someone’s broken leg. But when it comes to a condition that cannot be plainly seen from the outside then it becomes ‘that we must not speak of’.
So let’s speak about it.
What is mental health? It is generally any condition that doesn’t have a obvious physical manifestation. It can range from mild to debilitating with a huge range in between. The main complication with understanding mental health is that literally any one can be affected, and quite often it’s the people you would least expect.
For example; the new mum who posts photos of her newborn on Facebook on a hourly basis may not just be ‘baby boasting’ but may be suffering with Postnatal Depression and just need some interaction. The person who makes excuses and doesn’t turn up when planned may not be unsociable and scatty but suffering with social anxiety that means as hard as he tries he cannot push himself to join in. The lady you just watched check her car was locked multiple times isn’t forgetful or over security conscious, she has a condition called OCD that controls her entire life.
For the 2018 study of mental health, the Mental Health Foundation conducted a study of 4619 random people. Of those people 74% admitted that within the past year they had felt so stressed that were overwhelmed and unable to cope.
This is a high percentage which means someone you know WILL be struggling with mental health difficulties. You may know exactly who are they are but mostly you will have no idea, and that is the problem, mental health issues are lonely and isolating.
I know what you’re thinking. What does she know? Who is she to explain mental health to us? She’s the one with always has a smile on. Well I do know, I am one of those 74% of people.
Anybody who knows me personally is going to find this difficult to read and, believe me, I have ummed and ahhed all week long about whether to post and from which angle to approach it. But what is the point of there being a mental health awareness week if you skirt around the issue? and if reading someone’s unfiltered, honest experiences helps just one person then that’s one person who might pluck up the courage to speak to one more person. And so on.
I have suffered from mental health issues since my teenage years, I spent time on antidepressants and undergoing counselling (yeah that didn’t work too well for me). I have scars from self-harming and spent summers wearing jumpers to cover my arms. I did, on one occasion almost take things too far, but a moment of clarity kicked in and I called for a friendto help rather than put unneeded burden on my family.
For me, there was a trigger. I grew up in a situation that 100% revolved around mental health.
My mum had ‘manic depression’. Now more commonly known as ‘bipolar disorder’. Combined with many other issues with resulted in a manifestation of schizophrenia. She was seriously affected with her mental health and it majorly impeded into her life. As a child I remember voluntary admissions into the psychiatric ward and admissions that couldn’t be less voluntary (technically known as being sectioned). I remember many, many, many trips to visit her after school, where she may refuse to see us. It became the norm (and on Mondays we got McDonalds afterwards!).
I remember all the medication that she took, and the side effects that it caused, the times when you dare not speak for fear of what reaction you might get. The nightmares that she woke up from convinced that the world and everything in it was out to get her. The conversations she had that were quite blatantly not with anyone physical. The apprehension of what you might find when you arrived home from school. The dread of big events, such as Christmas or holidays as you knew a period of major depression would follow. She was one of the very last people in the uk to receive Electro Convulsive Therapy, a barbaric form of ‘treatment’ that involved sending electrical currents through the brain. She had it twice a week, on a Tuesday and a Friday. It didn’t work. All it did was wipe her memories.
It was crap. But at the time I didn’t know this. This was our life and we lived it. We stuck together and we coped. My dad was an actual real life saint, he made sure that we missed out on nothing and worked hard to give us the best.
But, no one on the outside knew the full extent of what was going on and that’s the real crux of the issue. It’s not only lonely and isolating for the person with the mental health issues. It’s also the family and close friends of them. The ones who love them and are torn apart seeing them suffer. The ones who know that they’d rather not be here anymore.
So. Maybe it’s important to remember that for every one person struggling from any mental health condition there’s probably a whole family of people near them, also suffering. A husband or wife who can’t do a single thing to help the person they love most in the world. A child who sees an empty shell of their parent, devoid of emotion and I can tell you that really takes it’s toll on a young person and they begin to hide emotion and not let people too close.
Sadly I no longer have my mum, I lost her to cancer in 2006. Followed by my dad in 2011. But if one positive thing came from everything I witnessed it is that I know how important it is to ask for help. There is no reward for struggling and making everyone else struggle. Misery loves company. Nowadays there is much more help available and a variety of much more gentle treatments to allow people to lead a better quality of life.
If you ask someone how they are and they say “oh you know, things are a bit tough” then they’ve reached out to you. They could have used the old generic “oh I’m fine” but they didn’t. So don’t dismiss it, don’t say “smile, it might never happen”, because it already is happening. Offer an ear, a shoulder, a cuppa, whatever it looks like they need most but would ask for least. Offer support but without taking on the role of counsellor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be someone they know they can call on in times of ups and times of downs. Consistency is so, so important,
The other major piece of advice I would like to offer is this. Don’t wait to seek help. Don’t try to cross The Nile in a dinghy. I am terrible, and I mean really bad at asking for help. But two years ago I found myself in a hole, and I couldn’t dig back out of it. I told myself I could handle it myself, scolded myself for being weak but it didn’t help and a few days before Christmas 2016 I had a meltdown, I admitted defeat in January 2017 and visited my gp who diagnosed severe anxiety issues and delayed postnatal depression. I was distraught but instead of going further downwards I accepted treatment. I let someone help me and thanks to some medication and wonderful support from those who love me I am back on form and better than ever.
If your leg hurts see a doctor, if your teeth hurt see a dentist, if your mind ‘hurts’ it’s just as real so go and see someone. Please.
If you’ve managed to get through this far then well done, it was as hard to write as it was to read I promise. I really hope that my writing is not in vain. I really hope that sharing actually is caring and can make a difference because I am a very private person and this is a huge personal step for me.
If anyone wants to connect and discuss anything then do not hesitate to get in touch, I will always listen and I have broad shoulders so pile it on.