I saw a post about the new Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’ about how the programme talks about mental health and suicide but why it is not positive in helping. The advocation of talking about mental health is such a great idea and for it to be getting such amazing attention around the world was such an uplifting thing for me to hear. Finally, the conversation is starting, I thought. However, the post I saw made me rethink about my initial thoughts as one of the scenes involves a guy saying that he ‘cost a girl her life because he was afraid to love her’. A (really cool, very wise) woman quoted this scene on twitter and made the very valid point that ‘if you want to raise awareness for suicide then you should drop the “love can save you” trope and actually discuss mental health’ (like I said, very wise woman). This is what infuriates me about our societal discussion of mental health issues – the romanticism of it and the lack of support that comes from people in a position to advocate it. Granted, I have not watched the show (I do not intend to either, it has some themes that might not be great for me to watch), but it comes across as a missed opportunity to really discuss the causes, effects, symptoms and ways to help one recover from mental illnesses. I intend to try and do that now, from personal experience.
Mental health illnesses, whatever the kind, are genuinely awful to deal with. From a sufferer of them to being a friend or family member, it truly affects everyone involved. I have been dealing with depression and (mainly social) anxiety for a while now – about 3 and a half years. But as well as this there comes ‘side bits’ that I suffer with too that I would not typically put under a symptom of the two ‘main’ illnesses – I also sometimes hear and see things that others cannot, which can be a bit weird and scary. But, funnily enough, this is common. ‘One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide’ (WHO). I am currently on medication for my illnesses and also getting the right therapy and help – which not everyone who suffers from it can say.
I want to let people know, as much as you have probably heard it before, that it is not uncommon to feel depressed, anxious, ‘weird’ or as if your mind is not feeling too good. But this does not mean that it should be dismissed at all. Mental health needs to be talked about, much more. Just asking someone how their day has gone, and then actually listening to them and talking through is unbelievably helpful, trust me.
I want to address the people now that are dealing with friends or loved ones who suffer from these illnesses. From my experience, suffering from quite bad depression, I have come to terms with some things that could potentially help those who are trying to help others unprofessionally (if you get what I mean). Firstly, just being there and present for that person is so lovely and settling for me, showing you care goes a long way. Secondly, it should go without saying, but judging, criticising or trying the ‘tough-love’ approach will never work. Personally, due to my lack of motivation and already depressive state, this approach has led me to darker places in my mind that I have not been able to get rid of for days – not fun. Comparisons are not the way forward – you cannot compare any physical illnesses, so why try to compare mental ones? It is harder for the person, as people (especially with depression or anxiety) feel as if they are over exaggerating their illness so that drives them to not get help, so making comparisons and minimising their pain only makes things harder. Finally, patience. This is so key in tackling mental illnesses because they are not a quickly fixable situation – it takes years. These small things can honestly save lives. Also, if you know someone who is ill and not getting help, try to offer them it, show them that they can get better – even if they think they cannot, or do not want to, it must happen to save them.
Here’s what happens to me. My down days are the lowest of the low, the underground, unseen level of rock bottom. It frightens my family, terrifies my friends, worries my counsellors but does not bother me. See, when I say my depressive states are extreme, they are extreme – but they differ. I have days when I am hysterically crying on the floor, unable to move or breathe properly, where I long for death more than my next breath. These, oddly, are the days where I am not as terrified, I am sorely confused and on the edge of giving up – but I never do. It is the days when I do not get out of bed, the days where I do not speak for hours on end, the days when I walk around with a face that shows no care in the world, yet my mind races full of them. These are the scary days. The lack of caring for my self or anyone else around me becomes more and more prominent and thus, I have no reason not to give up. But although I am getting better, there are millions of other people suffering just like this, even worse. This is why we need to start the conversation.
This is a very personal topic for me, and putting this out here is hard, but I have been so low and so close to giving up too many times that I cannot go on without at least trying to help others too. Like I mentioned, I am so lucky to be receiving the care and support that I am, but not everyone is so lucky – so let’s talk about mental health, for those 450 million people, for that one in four, for your family member or your friend, let’s start talking.
- This will send you to multiple helplines for mental illnesses if you need them – people are always there.
– Lily Hadfield