There has been a lot of public debate about mental health recently, specifically relating to depression and suicide.
Two key phrases I’ve heard repeatedly are ‘ask for help’ and ‘talk more about mental health’. Whilst this is encouraging I feel these sentiments can be misconstrued to place all the responsibility on dealing with depression with the person suffering from depression.
Asking for help is not always easy – depression often goes hand in hand with low self esteem, and without being prompted, without being asked, there can be a tendency to think that others do not care how you are, and that you are not important enough to be helped.
Talking about mental health is not always easy – constantly having to find a way to explain what it is like, that depression is a fatiguing & debilitating condition, not just being a little sad; that the anxiety you have is a little different to feeling a little afraid of flying.
Media stereotypes of other conditions make talking about them even harder – trying to explain the terror involved in OCD without someone thinking it’s a big joke, trying to explain the voices in schizophrenia without someone thinking you are a ‘crazed mental patient’.
How do I help someone who is suffering?
In the age of the internet, with Google, Wikipedia and mental health resources like Mind at your fingertips, why does the person who is ill have to justify themselves repeatedly? If you care about someone, look up the condition, understand it a bit more, and ask considerate questions of the person who is ill. Often it can feel like you are being asked to prove that there is really something wrong with you, rather than the asker showing compassion for the person suffering.
One of the biggest things you can do for someone who is depressed is to ask them how they are and to spend some time with them. Show them you care. Don’t shun them because they are finding it difficult to talk to people or socialise – withdrawal is a symptom of the illness.
It’s also important to talk about more than just mental health – because someone is ill doesn’t mean they become just the illness. Talk about your own life too, talk about football, films, music, celebrities or even (grimace) tennis if that’s what you would normally talk about with the person.
It can be extremely soul destroying suffering from mental health problems, finding out that you don’t have complete control over your mind. Some people don’t want to talk about their mental health problems – but that doesn’t mean you don’t talk to them at all! Most people still need to feel wanted, to have some evidence to counter the misinformation about their self worth coming from their own minds.
How do I find out more about mental health
It’s important if you haven’t experienced mental health issues to be aware of its effects so you can help those close to you. It’s important if you have a mental health condition to understand that you are not alone, that others suffer the same and (sooner or later) recover their health.
I’ve previously written about anxiety, depression and me, and our manager Markus has written about how he learnt to hug the black dog. There are many more really good mental health blogs out there – Time to Change is a good place to start, and I’m a fan of Black Dog Runner’s blog too.
At Mind in Salford we run Mental Health Awareness Training for organisations, helping them to support and understand people better. The training helps you to be more aware of the actual symptoms of mental health issues, re-thinking the tabloid stigmas and thinking about how you can help everyone’s mental health, whether they have mental health problems or not.
As stated above, Mind also have many well written guides to various mental health conditions and other related topics, and Time to Change have some basic myth-busters and tips on talking to people who are ill.