It’s easy to see now, after several months of counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, that more than just a few people in my life are struggling with their own mental health.
I come from a large family, a complicated family, with medical problems and familial disputes that rival the Montagues and Capulets. Growing up it seemed normal to me, as it was my normal, but now I recognise the toll it took on my mental health and indeed the mental health of other members of my family.
Only in recent years has the stigma from mental health begun to fall away. Between millennials now openly discussing the issues they face when it comes to handling social media, flexible working and movements like #MeToo, I see it as no surprise that mental health services are stretched to the limit as more and more young people look to therapy for aid.
I was one such person. After losing multiple family members to cancer, stillbirth and dementia in a period of 12 months, my mental health felt overwhelmed and I looked to counselling for answers. What came from my sessions was not only an awareness of my own mental health, but in some ways an understanding of how mental health works for others too.
Much like a physical illness, there are symptoms of mental health issues that we can recognise once we know what to look for.
Not only the obvious fatigue, irritability and strong emotions that people with depression and anxiety disorders face, but also the slurring of speech, the attempt to control everything and the focus on minor details that may seem unimportant to someone not suffering with mental health issues, but seem massive to someone else.
But what do you do when you recognise that someone you love is experiencing symptoms that you yourself faced and had to seek therapy to deal with?
It can be hard to tell someone struggling mentally that they need help, as it can sound like an accusation of weakness. The person themselves often needs to ask for help before they can truly get it, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to offer support.
When I was struggling, I wanted someone to talk to, someone to understand when my anxiety was overcoming me and who could offer me an excuse to leave, or someone who got it when I needed a break. It won’t fix everything in the long term, but it can help long enough in the short term that it will give a person the time they need to ask for help, or even start to improve on their own.
From facing my own behavioural instincts through cognitive behavioural therapy, I can see that many people may have issues beneath the surface that can lay dormant for years, but can be triggered by the smallest of things.
I myself suffer from low self-esteem brought on due to being a younger sibling, and from childhood experiences that many people experience without issue but somehow my subconscious has seen fit to create a negative core belief around. With the stress of loss, I put unnecessary pressure on myself to be better, unintentionally and without realising it, and some of my negative behavioural beliefs were triggered due to the stress.
This was an extreme case but other people I know have been triggered by things as simple, or as complicated, as leaving full-time education, being passed over for a promotion or a long bout of illness. It’s not the trigger that’s the issue, it’s how we deal with it.
Now I know what to look for, to spot when I have been triggered and what I’m going through mentally, it’s a lot easier to spot when other people are triggered and struggling as well. It’s like therapy was the key to a door that I have begun unlocking.
I have barely touched the surface of understanding what causes my mental health to suffer, so I cannot offer an idea as to what is causing someone else to suffer mentally, but I can at least register when someone else is in need of a helping hand.
It has not only made me feel less alone, but also more equipped to offer understanding and love to people in my life that may have been suffering in silence for a while. It also means I’m able to talk more openly about my own mental health as I feel that discussing it can help others take the first step to asking for help with their own issues.
If only the government could recognise that more people than they think need support, and that the NHS and mental health services are already stretched as it is. With only a limited number of people being seen to it’s a catch-22 situation we’re living in, but one that I recognise and will campaign for more awareness around as I continue my own therapy.
And by doing so, I hope that I can help others with their mental health in the future.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.