As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness week (18th – 24th May) I wanted to share my own experience and why it is important to continue actively spreading mental health awareness outside of this week.
Small Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and my viewpoints are purely based on my own experiences. If you feel you need help with your mental health and are concerned that you are suffering from any form of mental illness then please contact a health professional who will be able to advise you on the best treatment advice for YOU! Everyone is different and what works for some may not work for others.
I have spent my entire life being exposed to the negative effects that poor mental health can have on both the individual and those around them. From seeing those close to me being admitted to hospital, supporting friends through panic attacks and self-harm relapses, and myself being on and off anti-depressants since I was 15, it has been near impossible for me to be unaware of the concept of mental illness. This is why when people disregard the need for mental health awareness it both baffles and infuriates me. One of my colleagues once asked me what we should classify time off for mental illness, stating that it isn’t ‘really sickness’. I explained to them that mental illness is sickness all the same. If someone phones in sick to work because they are feeling anxious, stressed, panicked, depressed and so on, they are not ‘bunking off’, they are unwell. This question made me realize that many people do not understand and are under-informed when it comes to the subject of mental health.
So what is mental health? Well let’s first look at something that everyone is well aware of: physical health. Throughout your lifetime you will have been made aware of your physical health in some form. From headaches, flu, scraped knees, shortness of breath, food poisoning, rashes and so on, you will have experienced some kind of ailment that has affected your physical health and you would have been very much aware of it, not just because of how you feel but also because you will have most likely had some kind of visible symptom telling you that your body was not at its peak.
Deterioration of your mental health differs as you are not able to visually see the symptoms. You may start losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, find yourself unable to concentrate, struggle to sleep, find yourself tearful in everyday settings, maybe you all of a sudden feel overwhelmed by your everyday life. These are all signs that your mental health is suffering and could even be symptoms of a mental illness such as depression. All of us will feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious and ‘blue’ throughout our lifetime, the question is how do you look after yourself when you feel this way?
Well, the first step is accepting that you don’t feel right, much like how you wouldn’t ignore if you had the flu, if you ignore that you do not feel mentally sound then you are unable to help treat the symptoms. You can look after your mental health similarly to your physical health, eating well and exercising, giving yourself a break, and taking a rest every now and then will all help towards your mental wellbeing. I have been recognizing my own personal mental health needs for the past 10 years and am now able to identify, for the most part, when it is deteriorating. To try and keep my mental wellbeing healthy I dedicate time for ‘self-care’ at least once a week this involves anything from painting my nails, putting a facemask on, giving my hair some much needed TLC with a deep conditioning treatment, reading a book, writing down my feelings, doing crafts, baking, getting in touch with friends or even rewatching one of my ‘comfort’ shows or films. Of course even with my self-care routines I can sometimes still find myself feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed. When these feelings stick around that’s when I go back to my doctors and seek help, usually in the form of going back on anti-anxiety meds, but ideally it would be in the form of therapy.
I am comfortable talking about my mental health struggles because it is normal for me, but I understand that others may not have been as exposed to mental illness as I have and therefore may not see it as normal. So let’s look at the statistics. Did you know that throughout a year the average adult will have a common cold between two to four times? There is a reason it’s called common. Well did you also know that one in four adults will experience some kind of mental health problem within a year? It could be depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, panic disorder, OCD, the list goes on and on. That seems pretty common to me. So why the hell do people not talk about it? Embarrassment? Scared no one will understand? Worried they’re not normal? You know the best way to take away all that anxiety surrounding it? Talk about it!
Talking about how you feel is not only proven to help, there is a reason why therapy is so heavily recommended when it comes to anything and everything regarding mental health, but sharing your experiences normalises them. You sharing with a friend that when your baby was born you suffered from postpartum depression, helps her feel more comfortable to talk to you about it when she finds herself crying every day after her baby is born.
Mental Health awareness week allows us to open up the conversation around mental health and educates people, helping them identify their feelings and encouraging them to discuss with friends, family, and even their employer. If someone opens up to you about their mental health, be kind to them, and listen. I truly believe that a problem shared is a problem halved and you never know, you might even learn something about yourself at the same time.
If you would like to learn more about mental health then please check out these links: