World Mental Health Day 2020

Usually I write a full blog for all days dedicated to mental health awareness (If not any other time since having a child). This year I didn’t think I’d manage it, so I wrote a few thoughts about why the words ‘mental health’ are still challenging for people to accept. It ended up being a nearly full blog. Happy world mental health day everyone!

• Everyone has mental health, everyone has physical health – because health is something you have. You’d never say to someone “I have physical health” when referring to an illness or issue. You might say “I have problems with my health”, but it’s rare (although less so) that the expression includes mental health. Try to comfortable saying, “my mental health isn’t well”. You don’t have to say more if you don’t want to, but please don’t be ashamed. You wouldn’t be ashamed if you had a bad back, or even IBS but the latter you might sensor slightly because it feels more private. We should be able to clearly understand the difference between shame and privacy.

• Mental health is a huge blanket term for a myriad of diagnoses. The most common include generalised anxiety disorder, depression, social anxiety, postnatal depression. But it also includes, obsessive compulsive disorder, bi-polar disorder and eating disorders. If you are experiencing good mental health, either in a moment or in general, try to be sensitive about how you refer to your behaviours. Try not to refer to your instinct for organisation as being OCD, or to a moment when you’ve felt highly motivated and then slumped tired as being bi-polar, or refer to someone as looking anorexic because you think they’ve lost more weight than your own personal expectations were ready for. This kind of attempt at humour at the expense of legitimate conditions only adds to the stigma. It’s okay, don’t feel bad we’ve all done it. Let’s try not to in the future.

• This obviously applies to the word ‘mental’ too, informally it is recognised as meaning insane, nuts, crazy, mad etc. This is a habitual and harmful reference and a huge contributing factor to the stigma surrounding mental health today. ‘Mental’ in its most accurate definition means, ‘relating to the mind: intellectual, cerebral, rational, conceptual, abstract…’ you get the picture.

• Negative impressions are also given to medication and therapy, this is largely due to the dramatic perception as told by Hollywood. The narrative of an entertainment format should not dictate to your decision to seek and accept help, and this includes the news. In consultation with your GP, make sure you do your own research and find what methods might work for you. Only you can decided your healing path, but mental health conditions come down to chemical imbalances in the brain, the right drug can help your brain balance that and provides you with a level playing field to tackle any issues you think might be factor. Imagine trying to stand up on a boat in the midst of a raging sea, it would be almost impossible right? But standing up on a boat as it gently eddies is much more achievable. If you’d happily take antibiotics for tonsillitis, try not to think of drugs for your brain any differently.

• There are so many different types of therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy, art therapy, physiotherapy etc., again do your own research and find out which one might work best for you. This can be really hard, especially if you’re limited to NHS provision. Speak to your assigned therapist about what methods they’re using, they will try and appropriately match your needs and I have found it really helps to know how they are approaching your mental health. Many of them are talk therapies, and talking and revealing is a part of every therapy, so try to be open and honest because they are there to help and are trained not to judge. A lot of the newer techniques focus on positive actions for change rather than spending large amounts of time unpacking issues of the past. This is largely to the rise in generalised anxiety disorders and depression in young people, but these methods can be really effective. Remember therapy is a step, it’s not a fix all but a method to learn so well that you apply it everyday. Just like walking or running happens naturally once you’ve learned how, you will learn the methods to cope and manage naturally. It requires constant and consistent work and it can be tiring, but so too can walking!

• Mental health struggles will rarely go away entirely once you’ve experienced them. It’s nothing to worry about or feel badly about. As I’ve mentioned, they require constant work and it can be exhausting. If you are mentally healthy, try not to say things like “you’re better now aren’t you” because someone you know has had therapy and is responding well. The expectation that people will be better after or because of therapy is a hang over from health only pertaining to physical health. The attitude of putting it in the past and forgetting it, is also a pretty old fashioned notion and something that older generations tend to do. In the absence of an open and sympathetic dialogue about mental health, people have developing coping mechanisms. The irony being that many of these mechanisms are short term fixes but actually more damaging in the long run. The pandemic is a prime example of that, but let’s leave that rabbit hole untouched for now. The reality is that just as in life, mental health is like a rolling hillside, there are ups and downs and times when things level out. Try not to fight against the cycles and be gentle with yourself. You’re doing great.

• Delayed gratification could be the answer to a mentally healthier life. In a world of convenience, we are so used to things happening right here and right now. We aren’t used to waiting, whole industries have profited from our need for immediacy – consumerism is a prime example, e.g. The new iPhone is out, it’s better than the one you have, it will be faster and make you happier, you must have it now even though your current phone is fine and you were happy with it until a minute ago when you heard about the new and better iPhone. You experience a rush of endorphins when you get the new phone and as they retreat, you’re left wanting your next fix. Try to do things that take time, that build resilience not spike endorphins. A walk a day will keep those chemicals in your body and brain at a steady level for example.

• Conversely against my last point, if you feel you’ve been struggling don’t wait. Speak to your doctor. Unfortunately my experience is that not all GP’s are entirely empathetic, if you feel one blows you off they might not really be interested in mental health. Persevere, ask to speak to another doctor. You might need to push them for the best help, it’s the worst time to be having to push for help but this is another area of issue surrounding mental health. Reach out to friends, if they react unsympathetically try not to judge them, or yourself, overly harshly. They’re still a good friend, they just don’t have capacity for understanding mental health. In fact it’s probably their coping mechanisms prevent them from acknowledging it because they’re suppressing a lot themselves. There’s probably that person you vaguely know who has openly mentioned their own struggles, reach out to them. The support is there I promise. People who have been through this won’t shun you, they will help you however they can as long as they have capacity. We might be socially distanced, but our hands are outstretched. Everyone deserves good mental health, and right now we need to support each other more than ever.

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