Talking about Mental Health when everyone is afraid of offending you

You want to talk about Mental Health – you want to get people around you talking – but what if everyone’s too scared to say anything because it might be the ‘wrong’ thing?

What a great big sticky mess.

Well, allow me help to assuage some of those fears for you. If you are talking about mental health, you are opening the channel for other people to talk. You have pulled the lever and the great irondoors of secrecy have rumbled open, allowing in the confused masses.

You see people are curious. For instance, we are naturally drawn to disaster; which you can see in action anytime you drive by a motorway accident and everyone will slow down and gawk. However what usually follows is simply, “God that looks terrible. I hope they’re okay.” Then you move on.

Everyone is afraid of talking about what they saw with their own eyes. Everyone holds the thoughts of it deep down in a hidden chamber labelled ‘morbid fascination’, but it never gets released except in hushed tones and usually whilst someone is inebriated.

If we apply this same mentality to your friend who seems a little more withdrawn than usual, or your colleague who wears long sleeves even on the burning August summer days, or your kid whose grades went from A’s to D’s in the space of a few weeks, then no one is talking about what is right in front of their eyes.

I blog about Mental Health because I feel that nowhere near enough people are talking about it. In some countries it is the norm to see a counsellor in anticipation of an upcoming issue. People will recognise that there may be a problem surfacing in their lives and they actively seek out therapy before the issue worsens.

However in most western countries it remains that people are just plain scared to talk about their mental health. You can point to your broken wrist and say “This ouch. No work today.” And people will nod and grunt in agreement because the correlation is simple, you can’t work if you can’t function with a broken wrist, it’s excruciatingly obvious.

Go up to the same people and say, “Depression ouch. No work today.” and before you’ve even finished the sentence they would have awkwardly sidled away and are now halfway out the door frantically gesticulating about mysterious appliances that they left switched on.

People are afraid because they can’t see anything. They can’t see a physical manifestation of your mental illness gnawing away at your skull. They can’t see a great, festering beast lashing you down onto the bed and cackling as you struggle to get up.

Another reason is the term ‘mental health’ instantly conjures up two images:
  1. Mental. You’re mental. You’re crazy. Unhinged. Nuts etc. etc.
  2. It’s all in your head. It’s controllable because you can just think it away

Both are understandable thought patterns based on prevalent viewpoints in the media and conditioning throughout history into making us believe these fallacies, however, both are totally untrue.

The only way to change people’s misunderstanding of mental health conditions is to open up the irondoors (remember them?) and let them in.

Let them ask questions 
Let them ask stupid questions
Let them ask about how it affects you
Let them ask why sometimes you can’t go into work
Let them ask why you self-harm
Let them ask what’s going on in your head
Let them ask why sometimes you cry into your morning cereal for no apparent reason

Educate yourself. Inform yourself on your mental illness. Then you can inform others, and pass on your new-found knowledge. You can help other people to understand your condition.

They are more likely to listen to someone talk about BPD if it is their close friend who struggles with it daily. They are more likely to listen to you talk about your eating disorder, or bipolar disorder, if you are willing to open the doors and let them into a friendly, and easy talking space. They are more likely to understand a suicide attempt if they can hear it from you personally. Everyone is a little bit of a Doubting Thomas, see?

For those that want to know more about mental health – ask questions! Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong; because if you don’t know, then how are you expected to learn if you don’t ask? It is something we should be more open and forthcoming about, rather than hiding in the shadows and losing 6,500 people to suicide in the UK every year because people are too afraid to talk.

It can even start of as a tiny, tiny, question. It doesn’t have to be a 14 hour discussion on why you spent three days locked in your bedroom eating nothing but dustbunnies. Check out this handy article on ‘How to Start a Conversation’, for some small hints on getting started.

 

 

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