Today, I am ready to talk. It’s not the easiest thing to talk about, and it’s not the first time I have. Despite being an advocate for changing the way we think about mental health, I still find myself stigmatising my own condition and forcing myself to pretend the one thing I think nobody should feel they have to say: I’m fine.
Everyone has mental health. Whether you experience a mental illness or not doesn’t change that. I’m not going to harp on about the symptoms, my experience of mental illness or how I think the world needs to change – I’ve done it before. I do think it’s important though, to think about stigma and, if in some small way, I can educate people to know, recognise, understand or challenge the way we view mental health, then I have done my bit for the day.
So what are the facts?
The one we see everywhere: 1 in 4 of us will suffer a from a mental health condition in any given year. Is that not mind-boggling? I think we have become blind to this fact, but it’s astonishing. That means that on average, every year, 16, 545, 396 people will suffer. How are we not more literate about how to deal with mental health given this statistic?
Up to 90% of people who identify as having a mental health condition feel they have experienced some sort of stigma. I would go as far to say there is stigma about stigma – ‘Look I’m sure you’re just being oversensitive, people aren’t treating you differently/don’t feel like that/aren’t reacting like that.”
Think that ends at the general public? Over 60% of people with a mental health problem waited over a year to tell the people closest to them. These are the people you love, who love you, who are desperate to help, who are being pushed away. What does that tell you?
There are thousands of facts, that you can find more information on by checking out the Mind website. But the facts are just that. It’s not worth knowing the facts, but not doing anything about them.
How can you help?
You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to help someone with a mental health condition. Nor do you need to be an expert, be able to empathise, or know exactly how to help the person. But you can help.
If someone you know is acting differently, stop and think before you act. Why are they acting differently? Are they just a being a dramatic bitch, or is there more to it? Sometimes, all that person needs to know is that someone cares.
Listen. You don’t need the answers – often, the person isn’t looking for answers, just a shoulder, or an ear, or a friend. And when I say listen, I don’t mean listen to reply. I mean listen to hear. Listen to understand.
Let that person know they are not alone. Because they never are. That much may be obvious to you. But to someone suffering from a serious mental health condition, it’s a constant fight to understand who is lying – your sense of reason and common sense, or the intrusive thoughts in your brain. Imagine fighting a war. Now imagine doing it every day. Now imagine doing it on your own. Now imagine that nobody else can see it.
Ask that person what they need. They might not know. And that’s OK. Just help them understand that when they do know, that you are there.
Don’t make them feel their feelings are invalid. Whatever your experience of that person’s life, or your own life, or someone you know who has experienced mental health conditions, or your own opinions, none of that makes the way that person is feeling invalid.
Be in that person’s corner. Be an advocate for change. Don’t make them feel like an outcast, or abnormal.
You could be the change the world needs. You can be the sunshine that someone needs. You could be the difference between life, and something much worse.
If you would like to find out more about how you can support someone, you can do so by visiting Time to Change or Mind‘s. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learning is good – by learning, we can all move forward.