It’s World Mental Health Day, which inspired me to write about something I feel quite passionate about…our complex noggins!
It really is a sign of the times that today in my office we all wore different hats (cat ears, crowns, shark heads and beanies), to raise money and show support for this day and the importance of good mental well-being. A few years ago most companies would only celebrate Red Nose Day, but now – finally – mental health is making it into the norm, making it into the mainstream. All be it slowly!
For many of us, difficulty with expressing our feelings and opening up starts in our teens, and this week Cara Delevingne discussed exactly that regarding her own teenage struggle with depression. At the time she was so lost in a fog that she couldn’t see a way out and very nearly contemplated not being here anymore. Despite being gorgeous, wealthy and successful as a world-famous model, actress and now author – it really does go to show that you never know what someone else might be dealing with on the inside.
My parents divorced when I was 14 and I can still remember shutting myself off and wanting nothing more than to sit in a field with my pony, no talking, no interaction – just me and her. She understood me without having to say a word, sensed my sadness and ultimately helped me to get over the worst of it, by providing an escape from the tension in my house. Most kids aren’t lucky enough to have that escape when times get tough and I truly think that therapy with animals should be used much more widely in the treatment of depression.
With the split itself, there was anger, there was upset and there was bitterness of course and my transition from child to adult sped up a lot during that time. I tried to support both parents individually, whilst still struggling myself to work out why it was all happening in the first place. I was upset but it didn’t seem to derail me for too long and I was conscious not to be seen as a ‘victim’, I didn’t want pity from people. I just wanted to move on.
As I got older I put my IBS, panic attacks and stomach cramps down to a random act – my body failing me, a one-off event…I never for a second thought it could be connected to my mind or my past.
I’ve spoken before about seeing my lovely therapist and what it’s like to have hypnotherapy, but until that point I really had no idea how much I’d buried as a kid and how that had manifested itself into physical symptoms. I still have anxiety sometimes, I still want to vom at the thought of certain social situations and I obviously have my UC to deal with as another consequence of letting myself get too stressed out, but I now recognise those symptoms more easily and have tools to help me deal with them.
All this however, pales into insignificance when I read about people who take their own lives because they’ve felt so isolated, so unable to speak and so trapped that it feels like the only way out. In the UK more than 1,600 people under the age of 35 kill themselves every year…but by making mental health something we don’t have to be ashamed to talk about, this statistic doesn’t have to keep growing. Of course, feeling down doesn’t mean you’re going to end up going over the edge, but it’s easy to see how things can escalate if we don’t address them at the right time.
Time to Change is a really important website for offering help and advice to those who may be struggling with mental health at any level, and aims to remove the stigma attached to having a mental health issue of any kind.
1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue this year…that’s a LOT! That might be you, your mum, your nan, your best mate, your boss or your boyfriend – and all of them deserve support and understanding.
Here are some tips from Time to Change on how to help a person who might be struggling with their mental health:
- If someone you know opens up to you about their struggles you don’t have to have all the answers – you just have to listen
- Listen, don’t judge – no matter how shocking their insights might be, don’t allow them to sense that you’re making judgements on them because of that
- If you’re not hearing back from someone you care about, be patient – they may need time, you may need to be persistent but you should remind them that you’re there when they want to talk
- Sometimes small gestures of a cup of tea, a cuddle or a walk in the park can really make all the difference
Opening up is the first step, if we all did it there wouldn’t even need to be ‘World Mental Health Day’ it would be as easy as clicking a knuckle or stretching out our legs after a run. Our brains absorb so much, they need a release too.