Hi, how's it going? Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it? Simple questions, so mundane and run of the mill, but to someone who is struggling with their mental health, they can mean the world. A supportive question or opportunity to talk about how you really are can mean so much.
The stigma associated with mental health problems is horrible, so often I hear people making the comparison to physical health problems and feel invalidated in their own struggles because of the nature of their illness. The reality is that mental health doesn't need to be a stigmatised idea associated with negativity. We all have minds... and mental health is something we should all work on. A healthy mind is a positive! But there is such an association with problems and conditions, meaning the phrase comes across so differently.
When I first developed the start of an eating disorder and associated mental health problems, I was ashamed. I felt like there was something wrong with me and above all that I wasn't really that unwell at all. I functioned for a long time, but being high functioning didn't remove the mental torment I was putting myself through. I tried, for a long time, to do it on my own. Ashamed of being 'too fat' to have a problem, the kind of thinking that was keeping me unwell anyway.
It was such a relief to reach a point where I was able to be more open and honest about what was going on for me. Having kept it inside for so long had compounded some of the negative beliefs that really underpinned my illness and I was essentially maintaining it through trying to just be ok for everyone all of the time. The first conversations were most definitely the hardest, heck it's still difficult at times. I suppose, until you've practiced talking about your mental health, it's going to feel uncomfortable and you're going to make mistakes or not receive the kind of reaction that you were wanting/hoping for/anticipating. But gradually it's got easier over time, for me and those around me.
My top tips for starting a conversation about mental health are:
- Anticipate it feeling a little awkward or uncomfortable at first, this feeling will pass
- Be patient, understand that both of you may be feeling worried or concerned
- Ask questions, but with the understanding that they don't all have to be answered
- Let the other person tell you how you can help them, put the ball in their court
- Don't judge or make assumptions... your experiences will be different to other peoples, it's ok to use your understandings to help... but remember they aren't the only way of viewing a situation
There is absolutely no shame in struggling or finding it hard to be open and ask for help. There's equally no shame in not knowing how to approach and support someone who is battling with their mental health conditions. The key is to try and communicate as best as you can. Give people opportunity to support you, or opportunity to talk about how they are actually feeling. Try not to give up because that conversation doesn't immediately go well. I hope, one day, to live in a world where it's ok to talk about mental health in a really open and comfortable way. Let's start these conversations together and perhaps we can work towards that kind of world!
Check out Kate's blog for more mental health related posts!