More and more these days it seems that mental health is becoming a part of the conversation. It’s on TV, all over social media, schools, public services, you name it. It’s fantastic!!!
Thanks to the growing awareness of just how wide-spread mental health disorders are, mental health resources are rapidly showing up all over the place. Studies are being conducted. Influential people are talking about their experiences with mental health issues. Big corporations are getting involved in the discussion and offering financial resources.
Shining the light on just how common mental health issues are has slowly begun the process of removing the stigma around it. Things are definitely looking hopeful in the area of mental health for us and for the future generations to come.
Even with these positive leaps and bounds, we still have a long way to go. While there is a ton of information out there and countless groups trying to help, there still seems to be a lot of real truths about mental health that need more attention. Understandably, many people are still unwilling to fully disclose just how severe or deep their experiences with mental health may be. Part of this reason is due to feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and being alone in this.
Bringing attention to the forefront of our minds and sharing my experiences with it was a big part of why I started this blog.
I was one of those people who used to think I would never be affected by mental health disorders. I thought it was something that I was too “mentally strong” for, that it was the weaker-minded people who dealt with these kind of problems. I thought if I just stayed a strong-willed, grounded person that I would be immune to these kinds of things.
I could not have been more wrong.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of everything a person needs to know about mental health disorders, but moreso the lessons that I’ve learned along my journey with mental health struggles. These are things that I wish I had known from the beginning, and things that I want to pass on to as many people as I can in the hopes of opening up the conversation more.
In some ways, writing this post is so easy in that raising awareness about mental health disorders has become a huge passion of mine. I’m a pretty open person and I enjoy sharing my experiences, especially since this has become a huge part of my personal development. In saying that, this is also very difficult for me as I have to allow myself to be vulnerable. Being the perfectionist that I am, it also opens the floodgates of fear; fear of judgement, fear of criticism, fear of weakness.
But the need for honesty and rawness is needed in order to help move things in the right direction and to help get rid of these stigmas, so that’s what I’m going to do and I hope others will too. Let’s keep the discussion going.
1. Mental health issues are extremely common
When I first started noticing the early signs of mental health issues like anxiety and depression my first thought was “Why do I seem to be the only one going through this??”. It was a very lonely feeling, one that often left me feeling like I needed to keep quiet about what I was going through.
A couple people in my life were open about some of the things they were experiencing but I wasn’t quite sure yet if I had a full-blown issue on my hands. As I alluded to earlier in this post, I felt fairly certain that I wasn’t actually experiencing a mental health disorder. I was “too strong” for something like that and I had it pretty good in life, what was there to be depressed about? Why did I feel so anxious? Why does it seem like everyone else “has it together”??
It was years later that I finally realized just how many people are affected by mental health disorders like myself. As the years passed and the issue of mental health awareness grew, people started talking more and more. Even the internet memes were all about mental health issues and just how common they were.
Bottom line is that I’m not alone. You’re not alone. None of us are alone in this battle. The statistics say that 1 in 5 people will experience mental health issues at some point in their life. This means that you have multiple people in your life going through mental health struggles on any given day.
I take comfort in knowing that it’s not a “me” thing. That I haven’t done anything wrong, that I’m not weird or different for feeling what I feel. We are not alone.
2. Mental health looks different for everyone
Similar to our physical health, what is mentally healthy for one person may not be so great for another.
For some of us, staying in the house all the time and getting to bed early is just a part of who we are and what makes us feel good. For others, that is in stark contrast to someone who enjoys going out with a bunch of people to blow off steam. What makes one person feel good may be a huge source of stress for another. And that’s OK.
What’s important is knowing what makes you feel good and what triggers your mental health issues. Identifying changes in your mood or behaviour allows us to determine if this is just a “bad day” or if we’re entering into a more concerning state of mental being. Seeing behavioural changes in ourselves and in others is very important to take note of, and I highly recommend journalling these thoughts, feelings and behavioural changes you may be noticing. This will allow us to recognize frequency and perhaps even patterns which can be key in determining the source of the problem, especially if it’s from a chemical or physical condition.
We also need to respect a person’s need to take part in self-care. For some people it’s quiet activities done alone, for others it’s an intense game of volleyball. And don’t be that person who gets mad at a friend who doesn’t want to go out very often. Instead make sure they’re OK.
3. Knowing when to reach out is key
I am very pleased every time I see or hear something that addresses mental health, whether it’s a conversation among friends or an organization to help advocate for mental health. It tells me that things are changing, that we are engaging in very important dialogue to help shine the light on a growing social problem.
Without this kind of growing attention in society that mental health has, and even still with it, people feel very polarized when dealing with it. By bringing it to the forefront of discussion and coming forward with our own experiences and support of others, we are reminding people that it’s OK – OK to talk about, OK to experience, OK to say you’re not OK.
And that last one is my biggest point: that it’s OK to say you’re not OK. Not only is it OK, it’s essential. When we feel like we have to take this on all by ourselves, the manifestations of mental health issues can grow significantly. The fear of being “found out”, the feeling of loneliness as you try to make sense of what you’re going through…none of it should be dealt with alone.
In the beginning, when I thought my symptoms would just pass on their own, I felt like I could just wait it out and that I’d just eventually return to feeling like my “normal” self.
So I kept quiet. I was riding out the storm, certain that if I could just change this or change that in my life that I would magically feel better again.
But it never went away. It grew silently in my head until I would have random breakdowns to friends or family members, until I got to the point that I felt like I was a prisoner of my own mind.
It was then that I realized that I wasn’t OK. So I talked about it, to one or two people at first. Then more and more. I realized that the more I shared, the more people were willing to share their own stories, knowing that they didn’t have to feel afraid of being judged.
So let’s never stop talking about it. Your story may be the one that allows someone else to feel safe enough to share theirs for the first time, allowing them to finally feel some relief of the burden.
4. Knowing where to reach out is just as important
One thing that surprised the hell out of me was the amount of resources available to the public.
I’ll admit that we still have a long way to go with this in regard to public policy. For example, Canada has a national healthcare system yet many treatments and therapies for mental health issues are still not covered. Stress is strongly linked to nearly every chronic disease out there, so to not include ALL treatments for mental health disease under our coverage seems a bit counterintuitive when you look at it from a preventative standpoint. But that may be a topic for another discussion.
What I have noticed are the other initiatives in place from the government, colleges and universities, and workplaces.
Canada has CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) which has crisis centres and hotlines along with campaigns to provide training and support in the workplace and peer support programs.
Many employers and companies offer EAP (Employee Assistance Programs), which provides resources for employees and their families to get support such as one-on-one counselling, family and couple’s counselling and addiction help.
Schools have been great at recognizing the kind of stress and pressure students are under, whether from the elementary level to post-secondary, and have countless resources to utilize. Contact your school’s student services department or go on their website to see what’s available to you.
Let’s not discount the wonderful support that our friends and family can provide. While realizing that professional help is often required or beneficial, the support of our loved ones can be just what we need in order to feel loved and cared for as we navigate these confusing times.
5. Mental health issues don’t have a “quick fix”
In this instant-gratification world we live in, we’ve all gotten caught up in this mentality to put a band-aid on things and keep on truckin’ through life. While this may work for some things (say, a paper cut), it definitely doesn’t apply to mental health.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “You’re too in your head. You just need to turn your brain off!” I’d probably be able to retire, or at least buy a big boat!
For people dealing with mental health issues, it really is like being a prisoner in your own mind as I alluded to earlier. You want to stop your thoughts. You want to be able to control the speed with which your mind can so quickly spiral out of control into the worst-case-scenario kind of thinking.
If only it were that easy.
Even after I started exploring ways to treat my depression and anxiety, I’d quickly be back at square one when I realized that there wasn’t one activity, pill or mind exercise that could just get rid of what I was experiencing.
Sure, exercise definitely gave me a boost of endorphins. But what about the days when my depression and anxiety were so bad I didn’t even feel like getting out of my pyjamas?
Mindfulness seemed to help me a lot, but in a job that has so much time stress that I often don’t even get to go to the bathroom outside of my lunch hour, it was difficult to be able to slow down and do the mindful practices that were essential for continued success.
Then there were medications, some of which took the edge off my symptoms but I quickly realized that while they may offer some minimal relief, they didn’t solve the sources of my anxiety.
I’ve now been exploring CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), a treatment which is aimed at “rewiring” people to stop resorting to the harmful and unwarranted thought processes that are contributing to their mental health issues in the first place.
I know this will be a long road. I have accepted that I may never be entirely “cured” of my anxiety. But one thing I do know, is that I’m taking the steps needed to make improvements in any way I can.
And that’s something.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a mental health issue, please reach out to them. It’s often the ones who seem the strongest who may be on the verge of crumbling.
I will always be here to listen and help in any way I can, please reach out if you need that “someone” in your life.
Let’s lift each other up and get through this together.