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Ending the Stigma Around Mental Health

Because it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, my job has required me to do more research and write more about mental health than I ever have done before.

So, I’ve decided to use this opportunity to write something a bit more personal which might just help someone else. (Or at least I hope it does.)

Talking about mental health can be extremely uncomfortable for some people. I’m a lot more open one-on-one with some friends than I am others, and that’s absolutely fine. We must remember that mental health is very complex, and it can mean different things to different people.

Given the opportunity, I’m happy to talk openly about the struggles I’ve had and still have to this day. I would probably say I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been mentally, but I still have my ups and downs. The difference now is that I don’t let the downs derail my life or leave me feeling disappointed in myself. I’ve learnt that it’s absolutely OK for life to happen in waves, because absolute happiness 100% of the time is not realistic.

Some people don’t like to let their guard down and admit they’re feeling anxious or depressed or confused. A lot of that is because of the stigma surrounding mental health, which is why I love seeing people open up more often.

Struggling with mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not define you and it does not make you weak.

Here are three things I am not ashamed of:

  1. I have seen a counsellor for almost three years and probably always will. Maybe not every week or fortnight, but regularly enough to keep my mind healthy.

  2. I am an extremely emotional person, but I like being like that. Because even though it can make the hard times harder, it makes the happy times so much happier.

  3. I worry a lot. I find myself becoming frustrated about things I cannot control and I try to fix things that I sometimes make worse. I am trying to stop letting things out of my control affect me, but I will not turn a blind eye to them. I suppose it’s about choosing which battles are worth fighting.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, people may be struggling more than ever with their mental health. I actually felt guilty for the first few weeks of lockdown because despite how awful things were for so many people, I actually felt quite happy at home because I was so grateful. Then, suddenly, I became completely overwhelmed all at once and had a very difficult week. But that’s OK, and learning to accept that it's OK and being kinder to myself has worked wonders for getting through the tough times!

So, for everyone who feels anxious, who feels isolated, who feels guilty, who feels angry, who feels sad, who feels relieved, who feels nervous about lockdown being eased, who is desperate for lockdown to end, who is getting through every day, who is helping and supporting others, who is listening and who is understanding - we are only human and we are doing our best.

And, if you know someone who is struggling with mental health, here are my top tips for supporting them.

  1. While you might mean well, telling someone how you think they’re feeling or what you think they should do won’t always help. Remember that only medical experts are qualified to diagnose and offer advice, so try not to jump to conclusions.

  2. Find a safe space and allow them to talk as little or as much as they like without any judgement. Avoid using phrases like, “you need to do this” or, “why do you let that affect you?”. Instead, try saying things like, “that must be difficult” or, “I’m sorry you feel that way, would you like to tell me more?”.

Lastly, remember that a little bit of kindness can go a long way. A random call or text to someone could do a lot more than you might think.

#KindnessMatters #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

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