Mental health: it’s time to start reaching out
What to know, what to say, and what to do
Firstly, mental illness is not something you can ‘snap out of’, the same way that it is not chosen, or brought upon one’s self. Like having asthma, mental health is often invisible to the naked eye and is only visible when it manifests itself physically, like an asthma attack. To follow up from the last article I wrote – ‘Mental Health at UoB: a guide to help available’ – I wanted to write about how you can support a friend who is suffering from mental health issues.
Firstly, it is important to understand what your friend is going through.
Myth: Mental health problems are rare. Fact: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in their lives.
Myth: People with mental health issues are unable to work. Fact: Most people are able to work – a lot of people suffer from high-functioning mental health problems, and can still go about their daily lives despite really struggling.
Myth: Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty. Fact: 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem.
Myth: People with mental health problems don’t experience discrimination. Fact: 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and/or discrimination.
Myth: People who appear happy cannot be experiencing mental health issues. Fact: Appearing happy doesn’t always mean everything is okay.
How do we start this conversation that people seem so reluctant to discuss?
Firstly, Show your support and let them know you are there. It’s time to reach out to your closest people and express to them that you are there and will be there through thick and thin. We need to talk about ourselves. Secondly, the more we open up to other people about the troubles that we are facing, the easier it will be for our friends to reciprocate this. Thirdly, personalise your language. Talk about your emotions using ‘I’ instead of ‘some people’ or talking about someone else as an example of your own feelings. Finally, accept that you may not have all the answers, and often just listening is all you need to do.
How do we know that someone is suffering?
This is one of the hardest things to do, because I for one can vouch for the fact that if someone doesn’t want you to know they are going through a difficult time, they wont show it. Some individuals will hide it completely, and you could never know what they were thinking or feeling.
For others, there are warning signs that can indicate that they are dealing with something. Here are a few signals if a friend is willing to show them: becoming withdrawn from friends, sadness expressed through anger/aggression, disconnecting – perhaps through over working at the gym, at work, going out more or less.
How do we raise concerns if we do think something is wrong?
Honesty is truly the best policy. Voicing concerns honestly and authentically can start the process. Accept their emotions. You can be the luckiest person in all aspects of your life, but mental health issues can be due to trauma or simply chemical imbalance. Allowing someone to feel how they feel, regardless of their situation is incredibly important. Know that you can’t solve every problem. We can’t always give advice, or understand what someone is going through, so talking about feelings and accepting that there is an issue is crucial. Sharing your own experience. This one is so important, because knowing that you are not alone in your thoughts and feelings can allow people to feel safe and ‘normal’. Let them know you are there. Tell them you will support them and make sure you check in with them to allow them to talk about it. Have a real conversation. It seems simple, but it could do the world of good.
Why do people not talk about their mental health?
Here are some of the most common reasons provided from a survey by the Priory Group. ‘I’ve learnt to deal with it’, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone’, ‘I’m too embarrassed’, ‘There’s a negative stigma around this type of thing’, ‘I don’t want to admit I need support’, ‘I don’t want to appear weak’, ‘I have no one to talk to’.
Look after yourself
Taking on care for a friend can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming, so always make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well.