Anxiety is the friend that sits with you when you feel alone in a crowded room. Depression is the mate that accompanies you down a rabbit hole of self-destruction. Panic attacks are the little moths that cloud your vision when your subconscious has had enough. Mental health illnesses can ruin and take lives. Mental health is real.
In the UK & Republic of Ireland, there were 6,859 suicides in 2018. Suicide rates are at more than 5 in 100,000 young adults and men between the ages of 45-49 are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Most of these, are due to mental health struggles that go unseen.
In less extreme cases, struggles with mental health can ruin familial and friendly relationships, cause distractions from normal life, lead to eating disorders and cause all manner of damage based on how well individuals have the internal capacity and the external support to deal with the problems.
The purpose of this post, in honour of World Mental Health Day, is to simply continue an ongoing conversation or to begin one where it is yet to be had.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
The thing is, we all suffer from mental health, whether or not we get panic attacks or full blown anxiety, we all feel stress, worry and fear in our everyday lives. On the other hand, we all feel joy, elatement and happiness too. There is bad mental health and there is good mental health and all of these fall on a spectrum. It’s important to know where we fall on that spectrum.
My person mental health journey began two years ago when I had my first panic attack. I was alone on a train coming back from a holiday with my family. At the time, I was having a bad experience at university, feeling extremely homesick and I wasn’t enjoying the path I was on. I had my earphones in and was thinking about everything I was going back to, when all of a sudden my eyes glazed over, I felt like I was going to faint, I started to shiver and like I was having trouble breathing.
It dawned on me that I was having a panic attack. The only reason I knew this was because I had friends who had described the experience to me in similar symptoms. My dormant subconscious fears had manifested themselves into physical pain and trauma. But no one was there to help me. I was in this train all by myself. When it subsided, I was able to reach out to my friends and family who I knew would just listen to what I wanted to express.
I was scared, and alone when it happened, and have been by myself when it’s happened every time since. It’s a horrible feeling, and you know it’s only temporary, but your mind can’t help but behave this way.
When people suffer from mental health problems, no matter what form they come in, most of the time, you won’t know until they tell you, if they tell you.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
Older generations tend not to understand the existence and importance of mental health, because of a time when emotions were suppressed and not openly discussed. Diseases such as depression were deemed as a weakness, a condition that someone should simply be able to snap out of.
It’s only very recently that we’ve begun to talk about the impacts of mental health and how we all have a part to play in actively taking care of ourselves and being aware of the impact of our behaviour towards others. Schools have begun to introduce mental health awareness into teachers training and school curriculums. Parents are more aware of the importance of speaking to their children about being kind and about how it’s always okay to discuss their feelings. This isn’t everywhere, and we haven’t done enough yet, but we’re slowly on our way.
We will all have to deal with mental health problems at one point or another in our own selves, no matter how old you are, your sexuality, religion, race or social class. Or you will know someone who’s life was ruined because of a situation that caused their mind to rebel against them, and where no-one was able to help.
The best that any of us can do, whether we know that someone is struggling with mental health problems or not, is to always be kind and to lend an ear. If someone comes to you and needs to talk, it’s because they value your existence in their lives, and they trust you with their words and feelings. Create a space that is safe for them to speak, a space without judgment, where all you do is listen. Because that’s all any of us want anyway, everyone just wants someone to listen.
Check up on your friends and family, even the ones who seem like they’re always happy and positive, they may be the ones having the hardest time.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
If you feel like you’re struggling with any form of mental health, I hope you never feel like you have no one to reach out to. It can feel terribly alone being in a moment where your mind and emotions take over from any rational thought. But there are organisations, groups, friends and family that are there to hold you and listen. Talk to someone you can trust. There is no shame in seeking out a therapist, heck I’ve had a few in the past few years.
Nurture your mental health with as much importance as you do your physical and financial wellbeing. Just as you make time to go to the gym, be sure to make time to nurture a creative side, in order to keep your mind active and in a state of contentment. You may need something to distract you or remind you that there are little things that do make you happy. Whether that’s yoga, painting, singing, sewing, writing or tap dancing.
Search for a life path that makes you happy, it’s never too late to start again. You don’t have to conform to traditions or expectations if doing so leaves you in a place of constant anxiety and pain. Find freedom in the simple things, and allow your mind to find space in nature and in people, not in material possessions and reality television.
Don’t be afraid to move away from poisonous things that you’re currently using as distractions or vices, in order to find a space where you’re feeling safe and truly mentally nourished. Make time for yourself, take time away from social media, cancel people who don’t bring out the best in you and get rid of things that don’t add value.
This is your life, and you do only get to live it once.
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
We are slowly making a lot of progress in spreading the word about mental health and finding ways to mitigate the effects of a problem that is for the most part, very hard to understand. If you want to do a bit of your own research about mental health awareness or to follow some people who are having open discussions about mental health and other related issues, here are some of my favourites:
- The Movement for Global Mental Health website
- Matt Haig on instagram
- Ben West on Instagram (currently raising a petition to introduce more mental health training in schools in the UK)
- Hannah Daisy on Instagram
- Jameela Jamil on Instagram (founder of the influential IWeigh movement)
Also, here are some of my favourite books and podcasts that have helped me when I’m in a mental funk:
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**** by Mark Manson
- The Happy Place podcast with Ferne Cotton
- Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd
Remember, be kind, and check in on your loved ones today, and as often as you can.
Sit back, grab some Oreos, and let’s see what life has to offer us next,