The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this year, it is more important than ever to start up the conversation around mental health and how you can help yourself and those around you. I’m a huge advocate for starting those tough conversations. Sometimes they won’t be nice but, they need to be had – it’s just not okay to turn a blind eye to it anymore.
Firstly, I want to clear up the fact that every person has ‘mental health’. I still find lots of people who think that mental health is this exclusive thing that only people with mental illnesses have. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The difference is that people with mental illnesses often face greater challenges and have to pay closer attention to their mental wellbeing than those who don’t.
More and more people are being diagnosed with mental illnesses which is great as it means that people can be supported through the challenges, rather than battling alone. Professional help, whether that be from a doctor or a counsellor, is so important in helping people to get better and manage their illness but, I do think that if you don’t have a support system of friends and family to help you then I think it makes the journey a whole lot tougher.
I’m very open about my mental health challenges, on my Instagram in particular. For me, it’s important to show the other side to the person people see on social media, and I have found that, by being open, I’ve helped others to feel heard and supported. People like to see themselves represented and, even though I have only a tiny following, I have been able to be that person for some and that makes me so happy.
Over on my Instagram, I asked my followers what tips they would give to people who want to be more supportive and helpful in the mental health world. So here are just a few of them:
- Offer help and not solutions.
- Check-in with people, even if they seem fine on the surface.
- Always be patient with people – pressure doesn’t help so, let them open up when they’re ready.
- Don’t tell people how they are/should be feeling.
- Stop sticking to stereotypes – not all panic attacks are visible, OCD isn’t always needing to be clean, depression isn’t always not being able to get out of bed.
- Listen to other people who have been through mental illnesses and ask them questions, then use that knowledge.
- It’s okay to ask questions.
- When people ask how you are, be honest. Tired from a tough day at work? It’s okay to tell people as it helps to break down the barrier of always needing to be ‘fine’!
- Be aware of the language you are using and how that may help/hinder someone.
- Extend an invite – sometimes they may not feel up to going out, and that’s okay. But, the worst thing you can do is to stop asking if they’d like to do something with you!
The list really could go on forever and I am so, so grateful to everyone who sent in their advice and tips.
This year for Mental Health Awareness Week, which was last week, the theme was nature. One tip that popped up over and over again was that it’s good to get outside in the fresh air! So, try and encourage yourself and your friends to get out for a walk or a picnic. I know that, for some people (myself included), it may be too much to go and sit in a beer garden or a restaurant at the moment, and that is completely fine. Takeaway food and a car ride are more than enough – and pair that with some good music, you’ll be onto a winner.
Finally, I just wanted to offer some final words of advice. From the inside, mental illness can be like a dark room where you can’t find the light switch or the door. Be the person who opens that door, turns on the light and sits with them until their eyes get used to the light again.
Words by: Alice Mason
Edited by: Harsheni Maniarasan