Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and I honestly have to say I was blown away but how much attention it got on the news, social media and general discussion. In comparison to even last year’s same awareness day, the attention 2017’s gained was so much more and that felt truly wonderful.
One of the reasons why it’s been so much bigger is because people are talking about their mental health now. It’s breaking the taboo, and showing that it can happen to anyone. I’ve found it so reassuring to see so many people be honest about their own struggles, so that’s why I’m going to chip in a bit and talk you through some of the steps I’ve taken to improve my own mental health – which isn’t perfect. It is something I am making a conscious effort to work on and improve more, and I have made massive strides in the past year.
I think the biggest problem with people suffering with mental health issues is the stigma that it is not normal, that being anything less than happy is out of the ordinary and makes you different. That idea of being an outsider can fester into something bigger and scarier and make the whole problem so much worse.
I think an important thing to remember is that you don’t have to throw yourself in the deep end. Pace yourself and take your time in a way that’s comfortable to you – test the waters. For example, something I started pushing myself to do more was to be a bit more honest about how I was feeling. If a friend or colleague asked how I was when I was down, instead of suppressing my emotions and replying the usual “I’m fine, how are you?” that is so instinctive to all of us, I started responding with things like “I’m not doing so great today, but I’ll be okay”. You don’t have to delve into why, the vast majority of people can understand. And it’s amazing how instantly that weight can start lifting from your shoulders in teeny tiny little pieces.
It’s also a massive help for other people. Your influence can be massive, and in return can give you so much. If you’re honest about not feeling great, then more than likely you’ll discover that perhaps others aren’t feeling great, or that they can be truly wonderful and supportive. Being honest to yourself and others can spark a big ripple effect of awareness and have more people being more honest and supportive – just like how much more awareness this year’s Mental Health Day gained than last year’s.
It’s also worth noting that it isn’t so big and scary to seek professional help. Doctor’s can be amazing if you have the right ones, and will give you the option to trial things out like antidepressants or other things – you can try thigs and see if they’re right for you without making any commitments.
I will say that therapy is brilliant, but not so attainable at the moment. Under the NHS, there’s a long waiting list and even once you get through you may only receive a handful of sessions. In the past I’ve even been turned away from NHS partnered therapy because I wasn’t depressed enough, and told to return if I started getting suicidal. That’s infuriating, but is a reflection on the funding situation they’ve been put in and not how much they care. But, it is an option worth pursuing, as a lot of the time it can just be down to location.
I now pay for therapy, which is a hefty sum of money each worth but it does lift such a weight from my head. Therapy doesn’t solve problems, I find that it gives me clarity over the jumbling of thoughts in my head and has massively helped me in understanding myself. Understanding what you’re feeling is a huge step to feeling better, and without therapy it would have taken me longer to figure that out.
It’s also worth noting that you can allow yourself the time to find the right therapist: you won’t necessarily click or feel comfortable with each and every one, and some may have different techniques or approaches that may or may not suit you. The most important thing for you to remember is that you are doing this for you, and that there is no pressure or time scale for you to achieve anything more at this moment than simply taking the steps to find support, because that in itself is a massive achievement.
For those who simply cannot afford therapy (I am barely scraping by), don’t feel like you are a lost cause. Deciding you are going to take steps to improve is a big enough start – I spent a good few months taking little baby steps to improve before I even sought out therapy.
My favourite ways to calm an uneasy mind:
One of the biggest things I struggle with is bundling everything up in my head till it feels overwhelming and like I have four million problems bashing around in my mind. But taking the time to list out things on your mind provides clarity, and can assure you that maybe there aren’t so many things to panic about.
take moments to breathe.
Its a big cliche, and a hard thing to admit you don’t want to do, but put your phone down and just chill with you for a moment. Start easy and look out the window on the bus instead of scrolling through Twitter, walk without your headphones in or make yourself dinner without the tv on in the background. You don’t have to do it all the time, but give yourself fifteen minutes to just chill with yourself a day and hopefully you’ll find it as therapeutic as I do.
take more time to yourself.
Do something that you actually want to do. Read a book you’ve had on your shelf for months, go for a walk, draw a picture, have a bath with a bath bomb and candles. Indulge yourself in youtime. You are worthy of being treated on a daily basis.
one step at a time.
Don’t feel like taking steps towards improving your mental health is some overwhelmingly huge thing. Take baby steps, like I said earlier. Something I find really helpful at times when I just want to lay in bed all day and be alone is my ‘just show up mindset’. It’s pretty self explanatory – if it’s work, school or an event you don’t feel totally up to, tell yourself to just show up, and that you can leave at any time you want. I often find that once I’m there, it’s not half as bad as I made it out to be in my head. And achieving a full day at the place can make you feel really good about yourself.
force yourself to note down good things.
I’ve recently downloaded Reflectly, an app where each evening you rank your day. Depending on what you rank, they ask you to name or explain some good things that happened to you; how you could have made the day better; and then ask a daily question. I really like it, and have found that it forces me to evaluate actually how good my day was – often I find that in hindsight, the day was better than I thought it was. If you don’t like the app, keep a note in your phone or in a notebook of nice things that happen in your daily life, and your achievements too. You’ll be surprised at how many you can list on a daily basis, and on those days where you can’t think of a single thing to add you can look back and see that there are a lot of lovely things in your life.
In this I mean talk back to the voice in your head. The little one that tells you things are terrible, that maybe you aren’t good enough or that things might even be better off without you. Recognise that as an intrusive thought and say hey! I am good enough. Keep saying it until that little voice is diminished and you believe yourself.
I am by no means a professional, but I have found all of the above to be massively beneficial to me, so if I can pass that on to anyone else who may find the same thing then that would be amazing.
It is difficult to talk about my own personal mental health. But it is freeing at the same time. If you can, I would really suggest being more open about your own struggles, if you have them.
We need to end the facade that everyone is perfect, because the reality is that it’s that mindset which is causing problems. End the stigma. Be honest with yourself, and seek out support. And open up the conversation to other people.
Find a therapist in your local area
Donate to mental health charities: