What’s world mental health day got to do with me?
Mental health has been in the spotlight recently but I still hear people say, ‘what’s world mental health day got to do with me?’. It’s a good question, but honestly if you think you’ve never been affected by mental health issues then you’ve been living in a bubble and it’s time to pop it. We will all have a friend, a colleague or a member of our family who’s dealing with mental health concerns, whether we realise it or not. Some people, me included, are exceptionally good at hiding their mental health worries and it’s these people that we need to look out for in particular.
Hiding my mental health issues felt normal when I was in my twenties. I worked a stressful job, had just come out of a long term relationship, moved home from another continent and things just didn’t feel ‘right’. I felt ‘off’ all the time, exercise, yoga and fresh air helped for sure but in the back of my head was still this feeling that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to. I became adept at ensuring that no one would ever realise that I wasn’t coping, booze definitely made me able to cope in a social situation but that quickly got out of hand as I needed more and more to cope. My panic attacks happened quietly in the gym changing rooms at work, if the stress and anxiety got too much I’d take a day off, creating some easy to explain illness while in reality I was just under the duvet just trying to cope with existing. I went on like this for a good 10yrs and I suspect that anyone who knew me at that time would say that I was a pretty sorted person, I looked like I had it all under control. Things did change for me, I fell pregnant after trying for a very, very long time, I got married to the man that totally ‘got’ me, chilled out about work as what was happening at home became more and more important and I started to see my way out of the fog.
My point is that if someone had reached out to me during those tough years I might not have felt so alone, but nearly 20 yrs ago we just didn’t talk about those kind of things, at least no one I knew did. Today with a spotlight on mental health from organisations like Heads Together, The Mental Health Organisation and The Samaritans we are becoming more aware. Being aware can be as simple as going for coffee and a natter with a friend or colleague, asking them how they are and actually listening, or you could just need to get someone out and about.
I have a dear friend with agoraphobia and she just needs someone to make her go out sometimes and support her while she does. It’s no different to what we’d normally get up to but I’m mindful that busy places with lots of people can be overwhelming for her so we try and keep it simple, going to familiar places and not pushing her outside of her comfort zone. I’m also aware that stress in the workplace makes us all less efficient and able to work to the best of our abilities, affecting everyone that we work with. I have a client I work with who had managed to get to his late 40’s before anxiety hit him like a hammer as he began to feel the weight of responsibility from owning his own company and employing lots of people. He now runs ‘free time’ sessions for his team, encouraging them to spend an afternoon a quarter just reconnecting with one another, no work talk is allowed. He’s shaped those sessions to make sure that everyone gets heard, no one feels left out or like there is a spotlight being shone on them and them alone. It’s a simple strategy but has improved employee relationships immeasurably.
I recently shared an article on my Facebook page to remind friends and family that my door is always open, I’ve got teabags, cakes and a listening ear. Having learnt to live with and manage my own mental health issues I understand how sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference so if you still need to ask yourself what mental health day has got to do with you, read this again and again until you understand that it’s just being part of a community, being a friend, being a colleague, being a brother, sister, mother or father, just talking, that’s all it is, it isn’t scary, it’s real life, life outside of the bubble.
Happy world mental health day and I mean happy, be the sun behind someone else’s cloud today.