Back around Christmas time, you may remember that I was going through a tough time. I hadn’t felt that low in almost 3 years.
I reached out to a ‘friend’, or at least someone who I had been very close to in the past.
I said I was scared. My exact utterance of distress was ‘I’m not okay.’
They told me I was okay. In a ‘your tests came back negative for cancer’ way, as if they knew for sure that I had been tested as ‘okay’. It was blunt. They shut down the conversation and never broached the subject with me again.
I’ve previously spoken about when I was a teenager, I questioned whether I might be bipolar. I was told I couldn’t be, and made me to feel like an idiot for even suggesting I could have something like that.
When I was 18 I was worried about my mood swings, my inability to feel happiness, and being ever increasingly on the verge of tears.
‘I think there’s something wrong with me. What if I have bipolar?’
‘No, you don’t.’
My obsession with bipolar grew from the term being one of only two mental illnesses I was aware of (the other being schizophrenia). Depression was an emotion you felt, not a state of mind.
That same month I broached the topic of suicide, and my longing for my torture to end.
That admission greeted the response ‘Ah sure everyone thinks, ‘Things would be better if I’m dead’ sometimes. It’ll go away.’
Today the Samaritans released research for their #TalkToUs campaign. They found that:
1 in 4 people feel they don’t have anyone to share their problems with.
1 in 6 bottle up their problems and keep them to themselves.
I’m not telling you about how I opened up to the wrong people to expose them, or for any sort of sympathy.
Yes, I cried myself to sleep that night in January not sure of my options. But, in the morning I woke up with a new determination to not let this beat me. This time I was lucky. I had the resources and a recognisable number of friends who were there for me.
Instead, I want to show you the reality of talking about mental health. You really have to be careful who you open up to. Their response can be far more damaging than you or they realise.
The stigma around mental health, from telling people they will be okay, dismissing their attempts to figure out what’s wrong with them, and dismissing suicidal thoughts prevents open dialogue of mental health.
When you try to open up you can learn from a young age that it’s not a subject to be broached. Or at least that it’s not a subject people are comfortable discussing.
Those scary stats from the Samaritans show us just how taboo the subject still remains.
It took 4 years between the first time I tried to open up to someone and the second time. Between the second and the third time was only 4 weeks. That’s how desperate I was becoming as I sought a way out of my own head.
Maybe I opened up to the wrong people. Or maybe none of us really had any education on mental health and weren’t comfortable discussing it. No one had ever told me ‘You can talk to me.’
Let people know that they can talk to you about mental health. That you understand and will react with empathy and compassion. Tell people that they don’t need to bottle up their feelings. Show them that they don’t need to fear mental health.
But only do this if you really will be there for them. Telling someone ‘You are okay’ without listening to what they’re actually going through, or without ensuring they do have the means to be okay is not helpful.
I firmly believe that people with a mental illness need to develop tools to help manage their illness themselves. But that doesn't mean you also shouldn't have a support network around you for help, reassurance and support. I know who I can talk to about my depression without judgement. And it's been a huge help for me over the last number of years to know I am supported, whether I actually choose to always talk about particular issues or not.
It's frightening to know that so many people don't feel they have this level of support. And it's up to us to combat this.