Is that an insensitive title? Fuck it. I'm not going to handle this any more gently than any other topic... Also, I swear a bit in this one, but I got some advice to 'be more myself' so I guess that's gonna happen.
I'm writing this a few days before World Mental Health Day 2017 on Tuesday October 10th, it's currently Saturday 7th. I often just whack out a blog post pretty quickly and post it on the same day, but this is a topic very important to me so I'm giving it some extra time to craft.
Having said that, it will probably still end up as a stream-of-consciousness rant. Such is the way my brain works.
Here's the thing with mental health: it affects everyone.
Funny that. Same as physical health.
I challenge you to find me someone who has never had a physical health issue. Not even a minor cold, or a grazed knee. Apart from Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, and let's face it Bruce ended up with a fair few scrapes in Die Hard so that cancels it out anyway. Can't think of anyone? Exactly, life doesn't work like that...same with mental health.
The UK stats show that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health challenge each year, and in England specifically 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health issue in any given week.
I'm trying my best to use words like challenge and issue rather than problem, because I just fucking hate that word.
So, as I said, I believe everyone will experience some mental health challenges in their life, just as everyone will experience physical health challenges. So why are people so happy to admit having a cold now and then, or a stomach bug, or the flu, or whatever else...but they won't find it easy to admit anxiety or depression for example?
Is it because of that stigma? That idea that maybe mental health is something to be ashamed of? You don't want people to think you can't cope with normal, everyday stuff?
Quick question: do you think someone confined to a wheelchair tries to hide the fact they can't cope with stairs? Like, everyone else can cope with them, I don't want them to think I'm any different, I'll just try and drag my way to the top and hope nobody notices. You've got no fucking legs, Brian, just leave it yeah? Use the lift, accept that it's there to help you get to the top of the stairs. You can still get up there you just need to use a different method.
Same with depression or anything other mental health challenge: you can still get where you want to be, you just might need to tweak the journey slightly. You might need to use other paths, and you might need to accept some help. This doesn't make you weak, or less of a person. It makes you human, like all of us.
ESPECIALLY considering that every person on this planet has had, or will have, mental health challenges. We are all in it together (see earlier point).
So as someone who has struggled with depression, stress/anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and a few other tasty tidbits from the smorgasbord of mental health, here's my thoughts on coping...in a handy list format:
- Admit it. To yourself at least. You don't have to shout it at everyone you walk past, the same as you wouldn't if you had flu, but at least don't be ashamed about it.
- Talk about it. If Carol notices you're not yourself and asks if you're ok, don't feel weird about saying something like 'I'm not sure to be honest mate, I think I might be struggling a bit with depression'. That's ok to say, and if Carol gets all weird about it then that's her problem not yours. Go educate yourself, Carol.
- Learn about it. Read some stuff online, there are a ton of amazing charities such as Mind, Mental Health Foundation, YoungMinds, and The Lion's Barber Collective and they all publish some sweet info and stories. There are also a whole sackful of blogs and videos and podcasts etc etc. What I'm saying is, you're not alone, so read how other people have been getting through it. And go to the damn doctor, see what help is available.
- Do something about it. This can be the toughest part, as the brain is the bit which is playing you up and you need your brain to get shit done. But bear with me, because this was the biggest thing for me...doing stuff makes things change in your brain. Seriously. Even if it's getting out of bed and making yourself a cup of tea, just push yourself to do something you feel is very slightly too much. Not WAY too much, like a marathon or a rave, but just something a little bit challenging. When you achieve something, no matter how small, your brain will produce a little hit of serotonin and dopamine...which make you feel happy and motivated, respectively. A tiny hit of that makes you feel a tiny bit better, and the dopamine makes you feel like 'hang on, I can do little things like that, I'm not a waste of space who's better of dead, what tiny thing can I do next?'...and this will compound over time and speed up your recovery.
- as a subset of DO SOMETHING, I would like to specifically sing the praises of physical activity. There are a huge number of studies which have found physical exercise to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, or to reduce the risk of developing these conditions. Even just an hour a week was found to have a statistically relevant impact!
- as another subset, do things you love doing. Do something you enjoy every day. Whether it's reading, or playing music, or even just listening to music! Again, get that serotonin moving and see how that can help over time if you're consistent. The good thing for me was that the thing I enjoyed was lifting weights, so that hit this and the physical activity in one go! Not everyone will have that blessing, but there will usually be some kind of physical activity which you also enjoy doing, even if it's just walking in the woods.
Basically, in short, don't be a victim.
Treat it the same as a physical illness: admit it, talk about it, learn about it, and kick its fucking arse.
I'm not a mental health doctor, or an expert, but I have personal experience and I know enough about mindset and psychology to do my bit. If anyone reading this needs to talk then hit me up on Facebook or e-mail me, and I'm always more than happy to listen.
Remember, you got this.
Big love x