I love the work of Mind, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities and have previously worked with them as a media volunteer. They are one of many who share the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year.
While the fact itself isn’t a myth, and it should most definitely continue to be shared widely, I think it partly contributes to the societal, unspoken norm that you only need to focus on mental health when it is accompanied with the word “problem”. Or maybe that we only even have mental health if there’s a problem.
Here’s a newsflash: everyone has mental health.
I don’t even need to provide a reference link for this one because it’s simply fact. In the same way that everyone has physical health, everyone has mental health.
The degree to which a person is mentally healthy is not simply a case of being “well” or “unwell”. Mind list a number of recognised and named mental health problems and disorders, most of which are what many would see as ‘more serious’ conditions.
The thing is, mental health is a spectrum, and, indeed, each mental health problem is its own spectrum too.
For example, going back to our physical health comparison, you can be seen as physically healthy, but be temporarily unwell when suffering with a cold, which is short-term and not life-threatening, but can still feel pretty aggressive at times. And you can guarantee you’ll experience more than one cold in your lifetime.
Take a long-term condition, such as IBS. Sufferers can have good days and bad days, flare-ups and quiet periods, a range of effects and levels of impact upon their life in the same way any person’s mental health has.
So, the 3 ‘fortunate’ people in the ‘1 in 4’ statistic aren’t off the hook at all, because they all have a mental health state too.
I think, what I’d rather see shared a bit more is that 100% of people will experience a mental health problem to some degree in their lives (whether they acknowledge it as such or not).
While this may seem ‘doom and gloom’ or focussing on negatives, I think it’s a really important conversation to have and keep having. How many times have you known of a person you admired, someone who ‘had it all’, someone with ‘everything to live for’ who gave ‘no sign that anything was wrong’ and be shocked to your core to hear they attempted to take their own life and sometimes, unfortunately, succeeded?
I think the media is very good at portraying mental illness as something which is obvious, frightening to the ‘healthy’ and makes for a bad, unreliable, untrustworthy person. A person to be vilified, castigated and ostracised.
Although we all know deep down that this isn’t true in many cases, those planted seeds are some of the things which contribute to someone who portrays a happy outward image to the rest of the world deciding that ending their life is preferable to admission of a problem and seeking help for their illness.
While it may never go that far for some people, many seemingly small stressors impacting on mental health can all add up to seriously life-impacting mental health problems.
I hear from so many mums and have lots of friends who confide that they’re really not feeling it at the moment, that inside they feel like screaming, crying, running away, but they are keeping on a smile for their children, their partners, their family, friends and colleagues because they don’t want to cause a fuss.
They don’t want to be a burden. They don’t want to admit they need a hand. They don’t want to be seen as ungrateful for the good things in their life. They don’t want to be seen as having a problem. They don’t want to be seen as a problem.
So, here’s a thing.
There is not one single person in the world who is 100% happy with every aspect of their life 100% of the time.
There is not one single person in the world who has every ounce of their shit together, no matter how beautiful, how much money, how many servants, aides, nannies, no matter how many holidays they go on, no matter how big their house or new their car. Not one.
There’s not one single person who hasn’t at some point been worried about what someone else thinks or what someone else might say. There’s not one single person who hasn’t been stung by someone else’s words at some point, even if they are wildly successful and ‘untouchable’.
There’s not one single person who hasn’t, or won’t, struggle with some aspect of their mental health at some point in their lives, whether they recognise it as that, or not. Even the old man you see buying his newspaper every day. Even that newscaster on the telly. Even your little sister.
It doesn’t matter what you think others may or may not think of you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built up a public persona of having a pretty perfect life or not: IT IS OK TO BE STRUGGLING. This is human. It is ok. Everyone struggles.
It is not a weakness to say you are struggling. It is not a weakness to ask for help. It is not a bad thing if you don’t know what help you need, just that you need help. That’s fine.
It is OK to arrange a million things and then cancel every single one because forcing yourself to commit to them and put on a brave mask publicly would topple you behind closed doors.
“But people might think…”
You ARE NOT the sum of what other people think of you. You do not have to resign your whole life to living in other people’s mind’s eyes with the turmoil of not knowing if it’s how you want them to think of you.
If you go back on a promise, the world goes on. If you ask for help, the sun still shines.
You never have to pretend to be ok because of what other people might think to the point where you are unwell and feeling trapped, no matter what your status is.
You just never know what battles absolutely anyone and everyone is fighting behind the closed doors of their mind. Be soft.
You don’t have to fight alone. There’s always someone who can help. Always. Never think that you don’t have something valid, important and special to contribute to the world just because you suffer with mental demons.
How do I know? Because 100% of people who ever offered something valid, important and special to the world suffered at some point in their lives with mental demons.
Originally posted on Huffington Post.