Today is World Mental Health Day. 2020 so far has been a complete meltdown. We’re currently all in the grip of a global pandemic that has led to extreme anxiety. We’re in fear for the lives of the people we care about, for our children, for our jobs, for our communities. We don’t know what the future holds and I can only imagine the toll this is taking on both mental and physical health around the country – and around the entire world.
But it doesn’t take a pandemic to trigger mental health struggles. Every single person, every day, can struggle with their mental health and for most people, you would never know it, whether you pass them in the street, or even if you’re a friend or family member, because it’s something that people hide very well. We hide it because it can be confusing to understand our own feelings, because it can be embarrassing to open up to people and tell them we’re struggling, because there is a stigma attached to it, and because there are worries that it can affect how others perceive us.
Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year, but I think when professionals look back at 2020 – and the years that are still to come – they’re going to see a big spike, so I think that Mental Health Day is even more important this year than ever before.
My Mental Health Story
I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder when I was just 17 years old, over half a lifetime ago now. Working with mental health care professionals, I learned how to cope with my anxiety, and found a fulfilling career as well as a loving husband, family and friends. In 2017 I needed help because I was struggling with post natal depression, anxiety and PTSD, that was eventually diagnosed as complex PTSD. I really didn’t want to admit I needed help at that point, because I was terrified that after an incredibly difficult journey, people would view me as an unfit mother for my son. But now I know that’s not the case.
Talking about my mental health with my husband, my mother, my friends, my doctor and with mental health workers who have supported me has been a massive help. It’s something I never thought I would talk about openly, that I always thought I would hide. But now when someone asks me if something is wrong, I feel comfortable, even to a stranger, saying that my anxiety is really high at the moment, that I need some time alone, that I need a moment. I can tell people that I suffer from panic attacks, and when they ask if they can help, I just tell them I need some space and I’ve found people understanding and respectful. I don’t feel ashamed and I no longer feel like I need to hide it.
So my number one tip to anyone out there who feels like they’re struggling in any way with their mental health is to try to talk to someone about it. A professional if you can, so that they can offer you the support and advice you need. That first step is so hard, but having someone listen, understand and in the case of a health professional, be able to make suggestions for how you can move forward, is such a good feeling. My health visitor was the first person I told about my post partum struggles after bottling it up for 6 months, and it felt like such a weight off my chest to actually tell someone out loud that I wasn’t coping, that something wasn’t right.
What has helped my mental health
Everyone’s journey is different. I’m not a mental health professional and I don’t want to give you advice when you’re struggling, but I do want to share what helped me personally and I hope that these things can help you too.
- Talking to a health professional. When I recently needed help I spoke to my health visitor, then my GP, who referred me to the mental health support team for my area. Through that I had a referral for talking therapy, as well as a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Following all the advice and recommendations offered me, which has included medication, has been my number one help.
- Talking to family and friends. This was something I was scared of in the past, but I’ve received an overwhelming amount of understanding and support. Even those friends who have never struggled with mental health personally wanted to listen and do what they could to help. In most situations, they couldn’t do anything to help, other than be understanding if I let them know I was struggling. Having them know that I wasn’t being rude, that I wasn’t upset or angry with them, that I wasn’t bailing on our friendship – but that I was struggling with my mental health, really helped maintain relationships.
- Getting a good night’s sleep. When my anxiety is bad I have horrific trouble sleeping. When I can’t sleep everything is harder. Even simple basic tasks can seem like a marathon when you’re running on no sleep. Meditation and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy helped me to start to re-train my brain to switch off, along with breathing exercises and focusing on relaxing in the evening, no more reading the news before bed for me!
- Self-care. Self-care is so important and it’s something that I think a lot of us struggle with. When I was a new mum I was feeling completely overwhelmed with things I needed to do for my son and for my husband, who was working very long hours and struggling himself. I felt massive amounts of guilt for even thinking about myself. Now I have come to find a routine that gives me some me-time, and to learn to analyse and prioritise my own needs. Writing and my blog has been a big part of that for me, along with coming back to reading books – I went two years without reading when it’s something I’ve always loved – and going for walks.
- Getting a dog. Obviously this one isn’t for everyone, but I think my 12 year old dog dying of unexpected, aggressive cancer not long after my son was born was a massive negative influence on my mental health. We waited three years, but earlier this year we got another puppy. For me, a dog is a massive boost to my mental health, especially getting out of the house and going on long walks with her. This may not be applicable to you – but is there anything at all that could give you a positive boost?
There are still things I need to work on. Self esteem and confidence, physical health, diet and exercise, coping mechanisms for when I feel overwhelmed and fearful. But right now, despite the struggles of the world, I feel like I’m me, and that was something I was missing for a very long time.
I hope that reading about other people talking openly about their mental health helps you if you’re struggling, whether now, in the future, to talk to someone yourself.