Saturday 10 October is World Mental Health Day which is the annual global celebration of mental health education, awareness and advocacy. The theme for 2015 is dignity in mental health. I will be celebrating the day by taking on another one of the ‘Do It For Dan’ challenges in Nottingham. I will be tackling the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest urban obstacle course race. It will be 10k of water, mud, obstacles and will end with a travellator and dignity is something that I’ll be leaving on the start line. In events like these as I’ve found so far this year, it’s best to leave things like dignity behind as even the fittest people don’t necessarily make a pretty sight as they try and scramble over obstacles with someone pushing them from behind.
Many of you reading this will know someone who is affected by mental health issues. Given that they estimate 1 in 4 of us will suffer from some sort of mental health problem then the statistics say that if you’ve got more than 4 friends then it’s likely that you will. If you’re reading this and know me, then you definitely do know someone as I have struggled with my mental health and continue to do so. I’ve also been touched by the death of my best friend Dan, who struggled for many years with depression and anxiety which ultimately led to his suicide which prompted me to try and raise awareness by doing it for Dan. Since I admitted publicly through writing my blog that I struggled with depression, I have found a number of people that I knew struggled but I never had any idea. That is probably the same as people were with me as you get very good at hiding how you really feel and shutting it away so that everyone thinks you’re ‘ok’ when you’re not.
One of the best things I ever did was to start writing about how I felt and my mental health as it helped me to express things that I had been unable to do when talking about it and it helped me to get some control back over it. The blog wasn’t about getting people to read it, although getting more people talking about it wasn’t going to be a bad thing, it started with the purpose of me being able to express how I felt and what I was going through. From the start I’ve been amazed by the support that I’ve had, in particular from people that I’m not that close to anymore, and I am very thankful for that. When you get support it makes you realise that you’re not the only going through it and other people can often add the perspective that you need. Since I started with ‘Do It For Dan’ I’ve been trying to spread the message as far as I can so that as many people as possible get an insight into depression with the hope that it will break the stigma.
The lack of awareness of mental health problems is one of the reasons I wanted to try and help to break the stigma that surrounds them by raising awareness of how people are affected by them. The stigma that surrounds mental health problems and the fact that people do not feel able to discuss any problems takes away the dignity from those who are struggling. There are numerous stereotypes that are brought out when you mention mental health problems, you’re either a looney, you’re not mentally strong enough, you’re lazy or you’re making it up as there’s nothing wrong with you. All of these things make people reluctant to talk about, especially in relation to work, and that only makes matters worse as the one thing they need is support.
It can be a very lonely place suffering from depression as you tend to withdraw from those around you as you don’t want to bring them down with you but as I found, it is one of the worst things that you can do. I had struggled with my mental health for many years before I admitted it to myself and even after that had happened it took a long time for me to get the help that I needed and to make some progress towards getting myself mentally healthy again. It’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight and even though I’ve made some great strides in the last 6 months still needs work. There are a couple of things that have helped me to make progress which may not work for everyone but have definitely helped me. The first one which has made the biggest difference recently has been my return to counselling. It has been really good to be able to try and work out where the root of some of the problems comes from and to get to know yourself better. I’ve been surprised by some of the things that I have found out about myself and the way my brain works. There have been things that I would have never thought of that have triggered changes through my life and have led to some of the problems that I have. I’ve learnt much more about myself and my behaviours which has all helped when trying to understand why you do certain things and what you can do to stop it which has given me a different perspective on many things and has definitely been a positive change.
One of the other things was finding a means of expression. This can come in a number of different forms, through the blog, through painting, through colouring and also through writing (which came as a surprise). Since I found ways of expressing my feelings and getting myself away from day-to-day life I have seen an improvement in my mental health. I think part of that is finding an antidote to my job as work doesn’t allow me any way of expressing myself so finding an outlet outside of work is important.
The final thing has been telling the people close to me about how I was feeling and what I’ve been struggling with. It took a long time after I first went to the doctors for me to tell my parents. The day I told them I was worried about what they would think and didn’t want to worry them (as it wasn’t that long after Dan’s death) but I’m glad that I did tell them as at least now they have some understanding of what I have been through and the work that still lies ahead. It’s also a good source of support as they all now know what problems I might be having if I start to withdraw and can be there to help. It’s the same with friends as I have a small group of friends that I know will always be there for me if I need them and they will try and help if they can.
All of these things bring me back to the theme as they have helped me get my dignity back from this terrible disease. One of the worst things about mental illness is that as no-one can see it, they don’t know you’re struggling. That takes away so many things until we feel that we can be open and talk about it. The stigma that surrounds mental health makes this difficult for so many people but the more people speak out, the more chance there is of breaking the stigma. There will always be people who don’t want to understand or who are just ignorant but the more the message spreads and the more insight we can give then the more chance we have of it being accepted.
For World Mental Health day why not just take a moment to try and connect with someone you know who might be having a rough time and just let them know that you’re there for them. It might make all the difference to someone who is struggling as you never know what someone else is going through. Everyone is fighting their own battles so try and be there for your friends as you never know what they are going through or if they need your help unless you ask.
Together we can make a difference.
Onwards and upwards