Why and how you can start the important conversation about mental health.
As we start another difficult year it’s time to start thinking about how we’re going to live our lives in 2022. While some may carry on as normal, I want to continue to encourage the important conversation about mental health.
We’ve come a long way in regards to recognising and treating mental illness. I like to think we’ve gotten to a place where everyone is aware of mental health and accepts it for what it is: Just another regular illness that needs to be treated. But sadly health care for mental health has taken a big hit in the time of COVID-19. It was struggling before, but now waiting lists are far exceeding that of two years. I’ve heard stories of lackluster crisis care teams, unempathetic doctors, and generally negative attitudes towards mental health patients. Yet, COVID-19 has caused a significant influx in patients who are experiencing anxiety, panic disorders, depression, eating disorders, and many other mental health issues.
With the demand higher than ever, now is the time to stand up and shout about mental health from the rooftops. Rest assured, even if it helps just one person, you’ve done your job as an advocate.
Why we need to talk about mental health.
Complete mental wellness is a privilege so few of us have. Mental Illnesses are among the most common of all illnesses with approximately 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health issue annually. In England alone, 1 in 6 people suffer from common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety on a weekly basis.
As I’m from Northern Ireland, situated at the top of the Emerald Isle, I’m no stranger to the taboo surrounding mental health. Not only are we a rather robust sort of people, but we’re traumatized by our past, present, and possibly our future. We appear to operate on a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ basis, with a lot of people choosing to ignore mental illness rather than face it.
Currently, Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of mental illness than anywhere else in the UK, with mortality due to psychiatric conditions 25% higher. With that in mind, only 6% of the health budget goes towards mental health treatment which is half that of England. (Prof. Siobhan O’Neill)
“We need to remove the stigma, and start speaking out about the inequalities felt and suffered by those with mental illnesses.“
By talking about mental illness on a more regular basis, we as a society will hopefully unveil the false notions that plague this topic. When these myths are debunked, it should help remove the stigma surrounding mental health.
It’s not going away, it’s getting worse.
The saying “I go to therapy for those in my life who won’t go to therapy” comes to mind. The younger generation has seen a distinct increase in mental illness. Before you say it, NO, it’s not due to us being ‘snowflakes’ or ‘easily offended.
We’re tired, we’re defeated, we’re worn down and we’re scared of the future that has been left for us to deal with. The percentage of mental illnesses is only going to continue to rise unless we start being open and honest with each other. And above all else, until we start being kind, compassionate, and understanding, we’re going to continue to lose more and more people to suicide.
*These stats are prior to COVID-19, and the utter shambles of health care that has presented from it. Numbers are far higher now, however, a consistent report can not be found.
How to start talking about mental health.
Ask the question: “Are you okay?”
Sometimes all it takes is to ask a simple question. If you’ve noticed someone in the office or a close friend has started to withdraw, ask them how they’re doing.
Of course, we can all easily utter the words “Are you okay,” but are all of us actively ready to listen? Don’t just ask it because it’s a nice thing to do, be prepared for follow-through and put your listening skills to the test.
Then ask it again.
Even when asked people are inclined to say that they’re fine, even when they’re not. That’s why it’s so important to ask again, and again if needs be. But maybe not all at once. Ask again when you feel it’s appropriate, and make it clear that you’re there to listen if they want.
It can feel very uncomfortable for some people to open up, even when asked because it’s thought that “I’m Fine” is the expected response. Even saying something like, “No, really, I care. I’m here to talk if you need to.” can allow someone to feel safe enough to talk.
And even if they don’t want to talk right now, they’ll know where to go when they’re ready.
Talk about your own experience.
Sometimes when we open up about our own experience, it can encourage others to do the same. You don’t have to go into unnecessary details or anything particularly uncomfortable for you. It can even be enough to just let them know that you’ve been through something similar.
If you want to speak to someone about their own mental health, remember that not all people are comfortable speaking face to face. Some are comforted by the addition of body language and tone, but others prefer texts or emails.
You can also help a wider audience by sharing your story. Like me, there are so many others out there using a blog to talk about their experiences with mental health. People have written books, articles, produced films and, of course, written music all in relation to mental illness.
When we don’t feel alone we’re more comfortable. Above all else, we feel understood.
Address the elephant in the room.
If we know someone has mental health issues or has recently returned to work or school after being off with mental illness, things can feel a bit awkward. Even if we’ve experienced mental illness ourselves, we can be stuck for what to say.
Approach them with delight to see them. Welcome them back and ask how they’re feeling. If they don’t know you’ve had issues in the past, perhaps share your own experience and let them know that they’re not alone. Even if you haven’t your own experience, let them know you’re always there to talk regardless. You don’t have to have an experience with mental illness to help someone with theirs.
Don’t be ashamed of it. Would you be ashamed of having cancer or a broken leg? Would you stop yourself asking for time off work for food poisoning? No, or at least I’d like to think not. There’s nothing embarrassing or wrong with having a mental illness. It’s the world that’s told us otherwise.
Own it, don’t shy away from it.
“Yes, I have clinical depression. But I take my pills and do the best I can to survive. No, I’m not crazy or any other belittling term you have for me. I’m just one of a hell of a lot of people who have a mental illness.”
Have you any other ideas on how you would start the conversation?
I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments! Or you can drop me a line on Twitter or through the contact form available at the top of this page.
Thank you all for reading and for your ongoing support over the last few years. The blog has gone through several changes in regards to layouts, content, and even how we handle our social channels. It’s been a real journey and one I couldn’t imagine would have worked without the support of my readers. If you’d like to get involved with the blog I’m always on the lookout for written articles and even advertisers! Just get in touch to book.