May 16, 2018
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 (14th - 20th May). Kathryn shares her thoughts & personal experiences.
It might sound corny but I genuinely mean it. You have the power to help someone facing their own mental health challenges; you have the ability to help someone going through a tough time. Mental Health Awareness Week aims to bring your attention to the ways we can support each other and to normalise the conversation around mental health. In the words of our friends over at Heart Tay Heart, it’s about how “we can all make a difference, to ourselves, to those around us, and to the people we don’t even know we are affecting.”
I used to suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. I started noticing it in my late teens and it got worse in my early years at university. I was a typical high-achieving perfectionist in an alien environment where there were no clear rules on how to succeed - and I completely floundered. I developed an eating disorder. I lashed out at others and myself. I put myself in hospital a couple of times. I was asked to leave by the university. Life moved on in a parallel universe, just out of reach from mine.
It was a pretty exhausting road to recovery, but today I am neither depressed nor suffering from crippling anxiety. I got through it and I'm much happier now than I was. In fact, I'm probably the happiest I have ever been as an adult.
I take a very active role in managing my mental health, because unsurprisingly I don’t want to find myself back in the state I was once in. Through a combination of talking therapies, mental strategies, and regular exercise, I have developed a personal set of practices that work for me. Small, consistent acts of self-care do wonders for my mental and overall health. It is not complicated or spectacular, but it involves a level of rigorousness, commitment and self-respect; and it’s something I work on every day.
This year Dundee Mental Health Awareness week is going low-key, but as Louise from Heart Tay Heart says, “Mental health awareness does not always have to be this big explosion, in your face awareness raising… It is the little acts done consistently to help others and ourselves.”
Heart Tay Heart is not about focusing on the things that are wrong with people. It is not about trying to ‘fix’ anyone. But it is about recognising what we can all do to help.
I personally feel that the kindest thing you can do for someone who is struggling with their mental health is to simply be there for them: “It may be reaching out to friends, to teammates, it may be a little act that brings a smile. Or as simple as asking how someone is and actually being interested in the answer.”
You may be worried about saying the wrong thing in front of someone who is facing a mental health challenge. You may feel awkward and want to shy away or avoid them completely. What do you say to someone who is depressed? Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything at all. You simply need to show up and be there.
It can be surprisingly difficult just to be with someone. We tend to want to help by pointing out the positives of life, or offering well-intentioned practical advice. I know you mean well, but this isn’t always helping. Sometimes it can be detrimental.
We all face challenges in our lives; we all bleed. You can give someone bandages for their wounds, but at the end of the day, it is their body that must do the healing. Simply being present, and acknowledging suffering without passing judgement, is one of the most respectful things we can do for someone else.
Being present with someone is a true gift. Give them your gentle attention and show them that someone does care.
You can make all the difference.
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