Mental Health - Let's talk about it.
The reality is, despite the abundance of progress that has been made, it isn't talked about enough. The level of stigma surrounding this topic is baffling, considering it is something that people have to deal with every single day.
Depression, anxiety, low mood, these are just a few of the absolutely awful things that can lead to, or indeed be caused by, poor mental health. These conditions can seriously affect your quality of life and make even the simplest of tasks almost impossible.
It becomes a vicious cycle that often can't be escaped from without help. What I hope to do today is explain why good mental health and wellbeing is so important and why it's a subject that is quite close to me.
I suppose a good starting point would be to go over what mental health actually is. Put simply, mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological and social well being.
It also affects a number of things in our lives, such as decision making and how we interact with others and the world around us, as well as how we handle stress. Someone with good mental health can tackle a stressful day and come out the other end tired but otherwise okay.
Those with poor mental health go through a stressful day and come out broken on the other side, with no idea how to put the pieces back together. Looking at the two sides of mental health (good and bad), we could say that good mental health can be typified by an individual's ability to learn, their capacity/ability to feel and also being able to make and keep good relationships with others and the world around them.
Whilst it doesn't exclusively mean it, those that are able to do this and do it well tend to be those who have and manage good mental health.
On the flip side, those with poor mental health will struggle in multiple aspects. They will be unable to maintain friendships, will shut down and become sullen and withdrawn where they were once outgoing and cheerful.
Someone suffering with poor mental health may struggle with the most basic of tasks. And the fact that they know that they probably can do it but feel they can't will make those negative feelings more reinforced as they take root in their minds.
Everyone is different, of course. The signs aren't always the same. But if you know the person or at least know their behavior, then you can see it. Being short and irritable where they would normally be calm, becoming easily stressed over little things.
Depending on the person, the indicators for good/poor mental health can be broad but, on average, there are some, namely the ones I've gone over here, that are in some way shared with those that suffer poor mental health.
Now, whilst it's all good knowing about the difference between good and bad mental health, that information isn't all that useful if you don't know what to do about it.
I'm no genius on the subject but I've struggled with my mental health as far back as I can remember, so what follows is some of the coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past and ones that, based on evidence we can measure has some degree of effectiveness.
The first one that, when I first heard about it, I thought it sounded absolute shite, if you'll pardon my filthy language. Sitting there in the lotus position or the butterfly or the crab or whatever they are called, going “ommmmmmmmmmmm” for about 10 hours in a day.
Like that would be of any benefit to anyone, right? As I'm sure many of you will know by that example, I'm an idiot and was so far off the mark, it's laughable. Meditation is by no means simple but also isn't overly complicated either.
And there's not necessarily a right way to do it. Clearing your mind isn't easy and I'm sure that, with more practice, this will become easier. But if you're under stress and need even just a few minutes to calm down, try and meditate.
There are loads of apps and guides that help you with it. I’ve used two apps, one called Calm and another called Mindfulness. The basic stuff is free, you can pay to get the premium versions, you absolutely do not have to, anything a beginner needs is there for you.
Even five minutes spent going through a guided meditation can make a big impact on your mood and your overall mental well being.
Another one that I learned about in what I seem to recall being a course in handling depression or mental health (the exact nature of the course escapes me, though I’m adamant I’ve got all the coursework somewhere) is grounding.
No, I don’t mean I’m sending you to your room for not doing your chores. Grounding, and the techniques that go with this, is a type of coping strategy. Simply put, it is designed to place you and your mind in the present moment.
It’s been used to treat a lot of mental disorders such as anxiety, PTSD and dissociation. There are so many different techniques used in Grounding and they all have different results on different people.
I’ll pop a link to 30 easy techniques at the end of this article and also give credit to another app called "What’s Up?"
It’s a handy little app, complete with information on various different mental disorders and emotions that can negatively affect your mental health, as well as long and short term coping strategies for handling them better.
The grounding technique it uses is a favourite of mine. It asks you to name 5 different things, forcing your mind into perspective and brings you back to the current moment.
For example, the one I’m looking at right now. Name 5 things that you can see that are green. So, I’m looking around and I can see... 3. Now, I’m wondering where I can find more green things.
Not all the questions ask you what you can see. Others ask you to name 5 fancy restaurants. Once you’ve answered the questions, it will move on to the next question and you keep going until, essentially, you are grounded in the present moment.
It has a range of other tools as well but I highly recommend giving it a look. Again, it’s completely free and has quite a bit to offer if you struggle with your mental health.
There are a host of other ways. Granted, some are harder than others in the world we currently live in. But the basic ones are still attainable. Eat well, keep the mind fed with all those nutrients and whatnot.
And water - someone told me water is important for the mind and body, drink it. Drink it all. No, wait. Okay, bad idea, don’t drink ALL the water. Just enough.
Keeping active, that’s a good one. Get those endorphins flowing through you. If you hate exercise and have a partner, might I suggest a damn good, hard, rough fucking? It's the best exercise there is and it’s great cardio.
They say good sleep is also important to good mental health. And it is. But most of you that read this that know me will therefore know that I can’t say anything about good sleep. So I shall simply say: don’t follow my example.
Get to bed at a sensible hour and have a good night’s sleep.
Stay in touch with friends and family, especially now if you can’t see them as regularly as you might like. Obviously, I’d recommend only talking to those that would improve your mood and mental well being.
Talking to someone you absolutely despise would probably not be the best idea, nor would it be of any help to you. The little things can go a long way to making your mental health just that little bit better.
Now, the big one. For myself and a lot of people. Talk. To. Someone. We can’t always handle things on our own and when it gets bad, it’s easy to let it all get on top of you and feel like you’re alone. A lot of the time, you’re not.
You just can’t see the wood for the trees, is all. Don’t shut people out, especially those that love you. They only want to help, even if it doesn’t feel like it right then and there.
Friends and family can offer an ear, help you through what you may be going through, even if all you need is to let it out. If you truly feel you can’t talk to someone close to you, that’s okay.
It can be easier to talk to a stranger and there are a bunch of services available to help if it’s needed. The Samaritans, counselling, especially if your doctor recommends or refers you to it.
Support groups run by those that may struggle with the same issues you are such as C.A.L.M (campaign against living miserably), SANEline, and Switchboard - if you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
These are but a few - there are many more. Never feel like there isn’t anyone out there to talk to. You just need to find that strength to make the phone call, sit down with someone and just don’t hold back.
I don’t know what options other countries have, I can only speak for the UK ones right now but there will be something out there to help you if you need it.
There is a wealth of information and helplines and coping strategies available and it is all just a couple clicks of a mouse or a tap of a phone screen away. Don’t let your negative emotions get the better of you, they can be overcome.
You’ve been okay before and you will again. Just take good care of yourself and reach out when you need to. I know I feel ashamed when it gets too much and I try to bottle it away until it leaves.
Want to know what happens when I do that? It comes back later, roided up like a motherfucker and proceeds to chew me up and spit me out. Deal with the negative emotions sooner rather than later, don’t let them fester into something much worse.
That covers the barebones basics of what mental health is about and some utter basics on how to deal with it. The keyword is basic, because I’m only drawing off personal experience and some information I gleaned from the internet.
Now to answer why this particular subject means so much to me and why I’m writing this post. Firstly, it’s good to flex the mind, writing about something you care about is a good way to do that.
Secondly, it’s something different on this lovely little blog, assuming it is able to pass go and collect 200 bucks. Thirdly, and arguably the most important one, however, is this:
I struggle pretty badly with my mental health. It has been a problem for me since literally before I can even remember. And that isn’t a lot, my memory is awful at the best of times.
But putting the jokes aside a second, I kind of need to get a bit serious here, to put things in perspective. I was bullied as a child for being different. That much I remember.
I suspect that I have forgotten or blocked out a lot of it but I was not happy growing up. But it was only in the last couple of years that I realised the extent of how unhappy I was.
I was sorting through old documents and came across some old reports from my school counsellor, that I was made to go and see in primary school. I had a good read through them, not expecting anything significant to crop up.
I was remarkably wrong. Apparently, the thought had entered my head that I would prefer to ‘not be here anymore’ but I knew that this would result in ‘upsetting my mum and that was the only reason I should stay’.
Now I can’t remember the exact age and I don’t have that report to hand to check the date but I was in primary, so I was young, younger than 10 years old at least. It shook me to read that this kind of thought had occurred in my mind quite so early on.
I’d sadly be lying if I said it hadn’t slipped back into my mind as the years rolled on. But having to read that in a report and still not remember ever feeling that. That’s weird and to this day, fucks with my head a bit.
I’ve had meltdowns, breakdowns and days where the weight of life crushed every fiber of me because my mental health was in pieces and I couldn't make them fit back together properly.
It’s cost me happiness and it’s cost me a job. Okay, admittedly, I fucking hated that job and I was actually relieved when I made the call and told them I wasn’t coming back - especially since it was the kind of job that can actively harm your mental health on a daily basis.
But the point is, that had my mental health been in better shape, I could have kept that job and had a smoother transition from one job to another. But it was not to be.
That role in my life was not worth the amount of times I went home and started crying, even if the day hadn’t been that bad and I’m glad to see the back of it.
Now, I mentioned before I was bullied for being different. I learned in the past few years that this difference is that I’m Autistic. Asperger’s syndrome, as it used to be called.
Nowadays, it’s ASD. Autism is basically a lifelong developmental disability. Screws with my social skills, really screwed my communication skills and generally, due to the symptoms that come with it, such as weird body postures and general lack of understanding of ‘normal behaviour’, I was a prime target for assholes who had nothing better to do than be assholes.
But learning about that taught me so much about my own behaviors growing up. It was a huge relief. It didn’t make any of the issue go away of course but it felt good to know.
Then, the flip of the coin. Information that I got from the doctors (and subsequently discussed with fellow aspies in support groups) showed that anxiety and depression may contribute to the disruptive behaviours that are already prevalent in ASD.
And those with ASD, due to sheer learning curve needed to adjust to normal life, are more likely to suffer anxiety and depression. Which I do. Great, it’s like being told I’m genetically predispositioned to getting kicked in the nuts and I’m also gonna feel EXTRA upset about it later.
This is why I feel it’s so important to take care of your mental health. Regardless of a disability or how your brain is wired, we all will face some challenge to our mental well being and it’s so damn vital that we know what to do when the time comes, especially if your mind isn’t ready for the challenge when it does find you.
Not taking care of your mental health is a sure way to land your mind in a very bad place that may be too difficult to climb out of. Keeping on top of it as best as you can keeps you happy, keeps you ready for the curveballs life can through at you and makes things just that little bit easier.
But something else that is important to remember as well. It's okay to not be okay. We aren't all capable of taking everything in our stride and some things will hit us hard. Don't pretend you're okay just for the sake of it.
Acknowledge that something is wrong, process that. Talk it through. Then, give yourself the time to heal. Forcing yourself to be okay may just damage your mental health further, so take the time and the right steps.
Don't rush it, even if you feel compelled to do so.
For me, everyday growing up (the ones that I remember) was a challenge because I simply couldn’t mesh with everyone else. I felt alone and lost and basically stumbled my way through school until I hit adulthood, where I caught up a bit and finally started getting things. A tiny bit.
There is still a lot about social convention I don’t understand and it depresses me that I am still playing catch up a lot now. In my life, my relationship, my friendships, there is no aspect of my life untouched by this and it causes constant worry.
Did I say the wrong thing? Did I upset this person? How do I avoid causing problems that may never even happen? About 100 questions like that, on a loop, in my head, everyday.
Putting it that way, no wonder my mental well being has taken a beating. But despite that, I find a way to keep on keeping on. It’s what we gotta do, right? I know I’ve got a long way to go before I get this right. Hell, I may never get it right.
But If I can get myself back on my feet this many times after my mind buckles under the weight of it all, then I reckon I’m doing more right than I am wrong.
Don’t ignore your mental health, don’t wait for it to go away. It’s not unbeatable. If you’re in a bad way, reach out and talk to someone. Take the first step in beating that voice in your head that tells you to be ashamed and that you don’t want help.
Don’t suffer alone. If you’re in a good way, I am so happy for you and I want you to stay that way. Do things that make you happy and reinforce your well being.
My apologies for rambling on but I hope that this did something other than bore you, dear reader. I wish you happy thoughts, a great life and a wonderful day.
The link below lists a bunch of helplines for mental health crisis issues. Never be ashamed to ask for help.
The What’s Up app, Mindfulness app and Calm app are all available on the app store for IOS and play store for Android.