5th October 17

World Mental Health Day falls on 10th October every year and with this just around the corner, I thought there was no better time to focus on how we can all help ourselves and those around us when it comes to battling the stigma surrounding mental health. Mental illness is still a huge issue across the world, and although the stigma is slowly dwindling and many of us are getting better at talking about it, it’s still rearing it’s head and affecting 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children. Around 3.3 adults in America are currently struggling with depression. 800,000 UK adults currently have anxiety disorders. That’s a lot of people to not be talking about it. And yet, the first step towards creating a safer space for people suffering with mental illness is for us all to talk about it. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


Those of you who read my blog will know that I’m no stranger to discussing my own mental health. I’ve struggled pretty badly with anxiety since I started university and my shakes and shallow breaths decided not to flee after I graduated. Living with anxiety can be gruelling and completing everyday tasks that others may find easy can leave you feeling defeated, low, miserable and like a lost cause. For me, recovery from this often doesn’t feel much like recovery at all. It feels like adaptation. Instead of searching for a cure for anxiety, I’ve tried to find ways to make it easier. Ways to beat it and show it that I can function, even with it looming in the background. That through every low day it causes, I’ll still come out on top.


Mental illness doesn’t just affect one group of people. It does not discriminate. Whether you’re old or young, rich or poor, it’s in all of our favour to help to remove the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Just talking about your feelings to your friends, family, children or anyone else will show them that it’s okay to do so too. One of the biggest issues when it comes to illnesses such as depression is that we all think that it’s embarrassing and that we’re the only ones going through it. So we push it down, put on a smile and act like that’s normal, even when your insides are begging for help.


I know it can be hard to ask for help. I know, because I’ve been through it and I still go through it. But it can and does get easier. Want to help yourself or help someone else to reach out this World Mental Health day? Here’s a few places that you can start.


As a sufferer


Talk online first. It’s a lot easier to open up when you’re writing it down rather than saying the words out loud. You could try writing it in your iPhone notes or in a notebook to make the words make a little more sense to you, or you could try saying how you’re feeling online. Whether it’s to a friend over Facebook messenger or a quick tweet saying you’re not okay and is there anybody who you could speak to, someone will always be there to listen.


Try chatrooms. If you’re hesitant to talk to any friends about your mental health but still need someone to listen, why not try an online chatroom like 7cups, who offer online counselling for mental illness from trained advisors. Alternatively, Mind have an online chatroom called Elefriends where you can speak to other people sufferers, and be heard. The internet is brimming with places where people are ready and willing to help you, or just offer a listening ear.


Go to your GP. I know for a lot of people, this will be the scariest option on the list. But, it is also one of the most important ones. It can be really, really hard to get a diagnosis of a mental illness from your doctor. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a process and you’re probably not going to get diagnosed in the first 10 minute drop in session which you go to. But that’s okay. It’s normal and you need to know that this doesn’t invalidate you or your mental health at all. Getting a diagnosis is, unfortunately, a much longer process than this. Sometimes you’ll need to go to multiple surgeries or GPs and you’ll need to be persistent, but you will get the diagnosis that you deserve if you keep fighting for it. Visiting GPs regarding mental health has left me feeling flat before, because there often does seem to be a view that it’s not as important as physical health. But it is as important, and good GPs will know that and will be able to refer you to people who can help. Keep persisting.


As a friend


Let them know you’re there. One of the most difficult things for someone who is struggling with a mental illness to go through, from my experience, is feeling like they’re a burden. It can be really difficult to reach out to friends and ask for help because often you just feel like you’re being annoying and making a fuss over nothing. If you know someone who has struggled with their mental health in the past, one of the most helpful things that you can do is just let them know that you’re there. A quick message asking how they’re doing or telling them that you’re around to listen if they need anything is like a safety net to sufferers. Just reaching out once to somebody can make the world of difference.


Don’t make them do it alone. Another scary challenge for people suffering with a mental illness is the things which it feels like you have to go through on your own. GP appointments are a big one, but even things like leaving the house to go to a busy shopping centre if they struggle with anxiety, or going to social events in a new setting if you have OCD or depression, can be really difficult. Why not offer to be that person to sit in the waiting room with them, or to accompany them on their outing? Maybe they’ll say no and that they want to try doing it alone, or maybe you’ll make a really huge mountain seem a little more manageable to them. Either way, a problem shared is a problem halved and it’ll be the offer which means the most.


Don’t abandon them. Sufferers of different mental illnesses often feel like they need to shut themselves off from the world. Whether it’s due to introversion or recovery, different individuals will have multiple reasons for this. Although your friend/family member may have started turning down more and more social gatherings and meet-ups, it’s important not to make the mistake of just not inviting the altogether anymore. Although they may not be up for hanging out at this moment, they need their support network right now more than anything. Keep asking them along. Keep persisting. Keep checking in. That in itself will help them to keep going.


As an activist


Educate yourself. There are a lot of different mental illnesses out there. A whoooole bunch of them which are significantly more under-discussed than the more common ones such as depression and anxiety. Sometimes we can encourage stigma completely by accident, simply because we didn’t think about the people who are suffering with the huge variety of mental illnesses which are currently being swept under the carpet in our society. Read up on mental illness. Ask people questions. Most importantly, remember that every person is going through something different and that each illness is just as valid as the ones which you may know more about. The first way to offer help to somebody is understanding, followed by acceptance.


Spread awareness. After understanding and acceptance, comes awareness. Being an ally to people who suffer from mental illnesses is one of the best things that we can all do to stop the stigma which surrounds them. So encourage conversation on the topic, whether this is online or offline. Get involved in debates and conversations and help to spread your knowledge. In order for mental illness to completely lose it’s taboo, it needs to be made normal for sufferers and non-sufferers to talk about it. Once everyone is aware of how common and normal mental illness is, it suddenly becomes much easier to talk about. So be a pioneer and start the conversation so that we can finish mental illness.


Help your local charities. There are so, so, so many amazing local mental health charities currently in operation and around the world. I guarantee that one little Google search will help you to find one of these charities right in your neighbourhood. They offer amazing support to sufferers in your community, but they’re also always looking for help to expand their services and raise more money. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Time to ChangeMindSane and Rethink. All of these are national charities which organise hundreds of amazing events to raise awareness and funds for mental health sufferers. Why not get involved?


Mental Health Awareness day falls on 10th October 2017 and there are so many ways that you can get involved. Take a look here for more information on what you can do. It doesn’t end here though. Fundraising for mental health charities, spreading awareness or just inviting a friend over to talk about it is a good place to start. The most important thing is that we all work together.


If you’re struggling with your mental health or wellbeing and need to talk to a professional, the following services all offer support:


Childline – 0800 1111 (24 hour support)
Samaritans – 116 123 (24 hour support)
SANE – 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm-10.30pm daily support)
MIND – 0300 123 3393 (24 hour advice)