In honor of this past Saturday being World Mental Health Day, I wanted to send a big shout out to anyone and everyone who may need to hear this, it is ok not to be ok. And not only is ok not to be ok, it is also more than ok to admit it and talk about it! Mental health is such a strangely absent topic of conversation when we speak about getting healthy and taking care of ourselves even though it is just as important to be healthy on the inside as it is to be healthy on the outside. So, let’s talk about it right now. Let’s make it more ok not to be ok all the time. We live in this culture where so often all you see is a filtered version of the happiest-looking, most social, most out-going, most successful people around you which unfortunately I think is contributing to more and more people covering up how they may truly be feeling on the inside.
I know I am guilty of this myself to some extent. While I do try to talk about my own struggles with mental health occasionally, I probably don’t do it enough mostly because I very much want this space to be as positive, motivational, and encouraging as I can make it. And while I have gotten my own mental health substantially more under control since I started taking better care of my physical self, I still struggle. I still have anxiety. I still have days I don’t feel as happy and motivated as others. So, part of why I am here today is to make a promise to all of you right here and right now, I will talk start to talk about my struggles just as much as I talk about my triumphs.
Another reason I am here talking about this today stems from a really interesting conversation I had just the other day. I happened to have the TV on while I was cooking dinner and a commercial came on for a drug to treat schizophrenia. A friend of mine who was over. heard the commercial and was astonished and maybe even a little disturbed (he is slightly older than me) that they had put that ad on TV because as he put it, “you never would have seen that or talked about that openly back in the day”. I found myself getting just the tiniest bit heated, not at him, but at the fact that there was even a time when talking about having a mental health issue or disease was frowned upon to that degree. I think for males in particular but even females as well, mental health issues have long been something we have been encouraged just to sweep under the rug and deal with ourselves.
So, in the spirit of being open and honest, I myself, have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for years now. I have talked about this on this blog before so I won’t go into a ton of details but I wanted to emphasize that for a long time having these panic attacks and living with higher than normal levels of anxiety made me feel inadequate. I was ashamed that I wasn’t able to control my mind better so I could be more “normal” which led me to suffer by myself and not seek out the help that I honestly really needed. I finally got to the point though that I started opening up to a few people in my life because I just couldn’t handle it on my own anymore and while it is very hard for someone who doesn’t suffer with the same thing that you do to understand exactly what you may be going through, I was lucky enough to have people who didn’t for one-second judge me. Instead, they just listened and were there when I needed them.
Having been on the receiving end of the kind of support and compassion that finally led me to get a handle on my own issues, I wanted to share a few do’s and don’ts today you might want to be mindful of if someone in your own life seems to be having a hard time or is brave enough to come to you and share what is going on with them:
Speak up. Like I mentioned above, so often people who are suffering might be too afraid to say anything. Often, however, if you are close enough with a person you might see signs that something is going on with them before they are able to articulate anything to you. Sit down with that person, gently explain what you have been noticing, ask them if they are ok or if they would like to talk. Let them know they matter to you and even if they don’t choose to open up right away, oftentimes just letting them know you are there if they want to can make the biggest difference.
Offer to just be there and listen. The first time I got up the courage to call someone when I was having a panic attack, I called my mom. She came and got me and we sat down at the kitchen table over a cup of hot tea and I told her what I was experiencing. We talked about it for as long as I wanted to, with her mostly sitting there just listening. The most important thing that came out of that conversation, however, was that I put my embarrassment aside, finally spoke up, and now had people who knew what was going on with me and were in my corner. I was reassured I could call them day or night if/when another attack happened and that put my mind so much at ease that I only wish I would have spoken up sooner.
Educate yourself. Having a greater understanding of what someone you care about might be going through can only aid in your being as empathetic as possible to their situation. While you will probably never totally understand what another person is experiencing exactly, being as tuned in and knowledgeable as you can be might assist you in not only knowing how you should handle the situation when they come to you but also can help in steering them in the right direction as far as getting the professional help they might need.
Offer to explore options for getting help together. Having someone on your side, assisting you with looking into seeking out professional help to deal with your issues can make the whole process seem much less scary and overwhelming. Someone in the midst of dealing with mental health issues might already be overwhelmed just trying to keep their head above water, so offering to take their hand and start exploring ways to get them outside help could be just the encouragement they need to begin the process. Again, the value of not feeling alone to deal with everything on one’s own is so huge to someone who just might need that little extra push to begin the healing process.
Try to diagnose or fix the person yourself. While being educated is great, unless maybe you are a clinical psychologist, better to just be there in a supportive role rather than to try to give advice to “fix” the problem. Mental health issues are often much more complex than how they manifest outwardly, so again just being there to listen and offer support is your best bet when someone opens up to you. Be a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a safe space where someone can come and talk about what is going on with them, but steer clear of asking too many questions or trying to diagnose that person yourself.
Offer up a story about how you went through something similar. While this may seem like a helpful way to try to relate and make the person seem less alone, oftentimes it comes across like you are trying to shift the focus onto yourself and may not truly be listening to what the person who is opening up is really saying. Again, while it may be coming from a good place, you don’t want to seem like you are just waiting to have your turn to talk. Make every effort you can just to listen.
Say “this will pass”. Saying something like “this will pass” or “this feeling is only temporary” can sound very diminishing and often make the person on the receiving end feel ashamed for even bringing the issue up. While some mental health issues can get better with time and treatment, when the person is in the midst of suffering hearing something of this nature can sound very dismissive and like the person, they chose to confide in is just brushing off the problem. These are big issues no matter how temporary or permanent they end up being so if someone chooses you to confide in please take them very seriously because they may have already been suffering in silence for some time.
While I do think recently the climate has started to slowly change to where it is more acceptable and less taboo to talk about mental health struggles, it really shouldn’t be something anyone is ever ashamed to share or admit to. Given all that we have been living through this year, it is especially important right now to speak up if you even think there might be something going on with you that is out of the ordinary or you are having trouble dealing with yourself. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all talk about what is really going on with us and maybe find a way to work through it together? There are so many people out there who might also be struggling with something very similar to what you are so let’s work on ending the stigma and make this conversation one it is perfectly ok to have!