October 10 marks World Mental Health day; a time each year to raise awareness, talk about and understand mental health. This year’s theme is psychological first aid, knowing what to do and how to approach someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties, trauma or crisis.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives. So statistically, either you or a number of your friends or family will be affected. It’s important that we talk about it today, tomorrow and the day after that.
Ellen Douglas, from Stockport, who has experienced episodes of anxiety and depression, has accessed support from both professionals and friends/family. She has also seen some of her friends go through similar mental health struggles, enabling her to create a support network.
”Just by having a person to talk to has really helped me’’, explained Ellen. ”The little things matter, and often people don’t realise they have done or said something to help someone experiencing anxiety.’’
From experience, Ellen understands that on the whole many people in society don’t know what to do or say to someone who is experiencing a mental health difficulty. However, in recent years she believes that “social media has got information to a wider audience, it opens up conversation and provides a talking point.”
In her book ‘Sane New World’, Ruby Wax recognises the stigma that is still associated with mental health and the need for it to be accepted within wider society.
”We are mentally ill, we are the one in four and proud’’, says Wax. “Change the laws. We are like everyone else. Maybe if we do this we don’t have to hunker down in isolation anymore, quivering incase someone we know finds out, or worse someone at work finds out and we’re dismissed or treated like a person with Ebola.’’
Tracey Brooks, head of well-being at Sunderland University, works to offer a wealth of support to students experiencing mental health difficulties, both to those in crisis and also to provide preventative work, so that students can build resilience in the long term and deal with challenges in the future. The well-being team also offer a service called ‘Silver Cloud’ which enables students and staff to have access to online cognitive behavioural therapy courses.
”In previous years there has been great stigma attached to mental health and to students accessing counselling services’’ said Tracey, “but as years have gone by, students are starting to find it easier to talk about being anxious, stressed or worried to their friends and often self-refer themselves to the service. 96% of students who accessed the counselling service said that it had made an impact on their life.’’
I heard a young man comment at a recent conference on young people and mental health. He asked: “I’m a first aider so I know exactly what to do if someone has broken a bone or becomes unconscious, but I have no idea what to do if they’re having a breakdown, why isn’t mental health training mandatory?”
He couldn’t be more right. Why isn’t mental health taken as seriously as the difficulties we can physically see? Mental health organisations are certainly trying to encourage this trend for it to become acceptable to ask for help and so we can feel confident knowing what to do or say. This could (as Ellen recognises) mean not saying anything at all. As a Samaritans volunteer, sometimes I barely say a word, and that’s okay because I am there to listen. Silence is just as important as dialogue – knowing how to use it, and using it well.
World Mental Health Day aims to get us talking about our problems, through events that are held nationally and worldwide. Tyneside and Northumberland Mind advertises a number of events that you can get involved in around the North East, taking place in Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside. During these events, participants can learn about where to turn for support, discover more about mental health and take part in activities designed to promote positive mental health, including yoga, tai chi, sports and listening to music.
My experience with mental health problems
Many of my friends and myself have been touched by anxiety and depression. I’ve seen the impact of suicide and read the stats about the prevalence of suicide amongst men under 40. It affects us all, whether distantly or more personally, and it’s important to open up about mental health, not only for our own well -being but so others realise that they are not and will never be alone.
For many years I hid my anxiety from myself and others around me, for fear of being seen as hard work, weak and vulnerable. As I’ve got older, however, I’ve been drawn towards the most wonderful of friends, who without them being over a computer, at the other end of a phone, or in person, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today.
Since I started disclosing my mental health and difficulties, I’ve found it easier for others to understand me, and why some things can still be overwhelming. I’m often told ‘you’ll be okay’ and as hard as it is to believe when I am in the middle of an anxiety attack, I know that this is the best thing anyone can ever say to me, because in the end it will be okay. It may be hard and difficult at times, but there are people who understand and even if they don’t, they’ll always make time to listen.
It’s so important for more people to feel that they can be open about their mental health difficulties, as there will be others whether near or far, who feel just as you do and can empathise in the most powerful of ways. I’d love to see the day when such topics of conversation are as common as discussing the weather, because it is okay to admit that you’re not okay, and talking about it makes you realise that you are not alone.
World Mental Health Day brings people together to understand, support and reflect- and as I’ve heard many times “You will be okay“.