You may have seen me around, usually with a big grin on my face (or if I’m concentrating I may look miserable – unfortunate case of ‘bulldog chews wasp’ resting face) but unless you knew my story, you probably wouldn’t realise that I suffer from depression.
The stats tell us one in four people suffer with some form of mental illness. This means as you sit at your office pod, at the shops, or on the bus, you may be sitting with someone who is suffering with an invisible illness. It could be the person to your right who is the life and soul of the party, it could be the person facing you who likes to keep themselves to themselves; it may even be you.
What I’ve learnt about depression is that it isn’t discriminative – it can affect anyone at any time – but because it can’t be seen it’s often overlooked or misunderstood. Physical illness tends to be more accepted because you can physically see how the person is suffering, while mental illness can be quickly shrugged off as fakery, or even attention seeking, because no one outside of the victim can see the agonising pain they are going through. (And trust me, I’ve birthed two children naturally with no pain relief, I’d happily choose that again over the pain I feel when douche bag depression takes me under.)
That’s why we don’t talk about it. That’s why people with mental illness feel even more isolated and lonely than their illness is already making them feel, and why the stigma continues. That’s why this #TimetoTalk day I’m asking you all to take time to talk about mental health. It may sound ridiculous, but by just listening intently to someone open up about their suffering could actually save their life.
At one point depression almost overtook me, I felt like I wasn’t worth enough to keep living. I’d lived for 3 years silently fighting it, too scared to talk to anyone about it. But all it took was one person, my midwife, to sit down, look me intently in the eyes and ask me how I was really doing. She sat for 15 minutes listening to me cry, just nodding her head, not judging me, just letting me know that she was there for me. That day I went from feeling my life was over to feeling strong enough to continue to fight. All because of a 15 minute talk with one person.
I know it can be scary reaching out to someone to talk about their feelings, I mean we’re British after all, our stiff upper lip doesn’t usually allow for these types of chats. So here are some pointers to help you out…
- Just listen
The scariest part about talking to someone about their troubles is feeling you have to give them answers in order to get better. Truth is, you don’t. We don’t know the answers, we sometimes can’t even explain why we feel the way we do, so we don’t expect you to either. Just voicing our concerns to someone that won’t judge us is all we really want.
- Offer help, not a motivational speech
I’ve been offered some gems of guidance over the years that I think have been picked right out of a Facebook meme, such as “tell yourself each day that you’re going to be happy, and you will!’” or “Start your day of with a smile!”, which have all been as useful to curing my depression as a Brilo Pad being used as toilet roll.
Offers of physical help really took the pressure off me so I could concentrate on getting better. Offer to take some of their work load off them (if you can handle it), if you know them well enough offer to help them out with their housework, or cook them a meal. Things which you find little can actually feel like a mountain to someone fighting this illness.
- Don’t be critical
When you have never suffered from anxiety, stress or depression it can be hard to understand what a person is going through or why they can’t just ‘pull themselves together’. When you are fighting an internal battle, you are already being highly critical of yourself, so no amount of ‘tough love’ is going to make us ‘see sense’, it will only make us feel worse.
- Be open and honest
Talking about mental health issues can take a lot of courage, it can leave us feeling as open and judged as if we had stripped naked and ran across the office floor. What helps is talking to someone who is as open and honest as we are. Even if you have never suffered with mental illness there are perhaps other experiences in your life that you could open up about so we don’t feel alone in the sharing. I once had a friend that helped me tremendously to feel comfortable when I opened up as she told me “I can’t begin to understand what you are going through, but when I lost my nan I felt the lowest I ever have and felt I lost myself for a bit, I can only imagine what you feel going through that every day, but know I am always here to help you out of it.”
- Keep in touch
Being social when you feel down or anxious can be difficult. Anxiety can make you think no one wants to talk to you, or that if they do you’ll make an idiot of yourself, so we can tend to keep ourselves to ourselves. This is where mental illness gets smart, she isolates you when you already feel lonely. So make sure to say hi to us, send a text, or invite us out to lunch. And above all, treat us like a normal person, because after all we are! We’re just a little ill at the moment. The best way to make us feel better is through humour, and talking about things that take our mind off our worries. Having someone who makes us feel included and accepted can do wonders for pulling us out of the darkness.