Posted in Mental Health, Quick reads

what you need to know about mental health awareness week

Mental Health Awareness week is running from 10th-18th May. It is an initiative organised by the Mental Health Foundation, encouraging people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice to those struggling. Other mental health charities, such as Mind, are also getting on board with the campaign.

The focus this year is nature. On their website, Mental Health Foundation define this as “any environment in which we can use our senses to experience the natural world”. This could be as simple as buying a new house plant and opening up the windows to get some fresh air, to taking longer walks in your local area. Not everyone has the privilege of living near to wide expanses of lush greenery or panoramic coastal views, but the focus of the week is on engaging with nature however you can, and in whichever way you feel comfortable.

There is lots of research proving that nature can have positive affects on mental health. For example, getting natural light can be incredibly important for people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ecotherapy (treatment which involves doing outdoor activities) can help with depression. Exercising produces endorphins which can help if you’re feeling anxious or stressed. Nature has the power to heal, we just have to know how to let it.

In an ideal World, every day we would all take a minute to check in on our own mental health and that of our loved ones.

You may have heard about mental health awareness week and thought, well, what’s the point? Surely, we should always be talking about mental health. Surely every week should be Mental Health Awareness Week. And yes, you would be right. In an ideal World, every day we would all take a minute to check in on our own mental health and that of our loved ones. But life is busy. Sometimes too busy, and we become lost in work emails, or essay writing; chores and tasks which seem the most important thing in the World (for approximately 5 minutes before something else takes its place). It is so easy to forget about our mental health, neglecting it like the sad house plant on the windowsill we promised to take better care of. That is why weeks such as Mental Health Awareness Week are SO important. They force us to confront it. To check in with ourselves and others, which is especially important given the past 12 months and all the trauma, anxiety, and loneliness the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to people’s lives.

These weeks are designed to bring mental health conversations to the forefront of society. But they should not then be abandoned. Therefore, you should view this week as the start of a healthier approach to discussing mental health. Talk regularly. Adopt warmth, kindness, and patience to how you talk about it (to your loved ones AND to yourself.) Mental health is for life, not just for a week.

Here are some ways you can get involved with Mental Health Awareness week.

  • Social Media- follow and support accounts which are promoting the week. Whether it is liking a charity’s tweet, sharing a Facebook post of helpful resources, or reposting an Instagram story.
  • Support charities and organisations- see if there are any fundraisers you can get involved with. Familiarise yourself with what resources they offer in case they may be helpful to you or others.
  • Check in with friends- Send a message to friends and family, asking them how they’re doing. Sometimes the people who seem to have it together the most are the ones most in need of support.

Get involved with the campaign by using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on social media. Let people know you are open to discussing mental health. It could make all the difference.

Posted in 5 things..., Mental Health, Quick reads

5 things not to say to someone having a panic attack

Talking about mental health is so important. But knowing how to talk about it is just as important. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be really daunting. So, here are 5 things not to say to someone having a panic attack.

  • “just try breathing normally.”

Trust me, we are. Controlling your breathing is one of the most important things you can do when having a panic attack, but also one of the hardest. The erratic breathing makes you panic, and the panicking makes your breathing worse. You see where this is going. It’s a dangerous and scary cycle. Instead of suggesting someone breathes ‘normally’, try being a bit more specific in helping them to slow down their breathing. Try saying, “let’s slow down our breathing together, breathe in for 5, hold for 5, and breathe out for 5.” 

  • “there’s nothing to worry about.”

Sometimes, anxiety has no logic. None at all. Someone could be in a safe space, with familiar company, and experience a horrendous panic attack. The body is a weird, and at times, wonderful thing, but also bloody annoying. Telling someone that there is nothing to worry about is a little patronising. Try saying, “you are safe and in control.

  • “you’re doing this for attention.”

I’ve had this one before, and at the time I was too anxious to really take it in. But retrospectively I’ve realised how awful it was. I promise you that someone having a panic attack would love nothing more than to, well, not be having one. They are not for attention. If there are lots of people around, then that might be making it worse. Try saying, “would you like to go to a quieter space?

  • “can you snap out of it?”

Another lovely line I’ve been told before. This makes panic attacks seem a choice. Which they’re not. As inconvenient as it might be for you to watch someone have one, I promise it’s worse for the person having it. It’s hard sometimes to know what the right thing is, but it’s easy to not be rude. So just don’t be. At all. 

  • “you seemed fine a second ago” 

Panic attacks can come on really quickly. While some days you can feel anxiety building, other times it can catch you completely off guard. Also, people with mental health issues are often very good at hiding them. So, while to you it may look completely out of the blue, someone might have been feeling pretty rubbish for a while. Try saying “what can I do for you?

Rather than just take my word for what warrants good advice, check out these very helpful resources.

Image provided by writer.

Posted in 5 things..., Mental Health, Quick reads

5 things not to say to someone with depression

Talking about mental health is so important. But knowing how to talk about it is just as important. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be really daunting. Reading advice from medical professionals is valuable, but sometimes the best people to give advice are those who have been on the receiving end.

So, here are 5 things NOT to say to someone with depression, from people who have had depression.

  • “Have you tried not being depressed.”

Where to begin with this one. I’m not a mental health expert, but I’m pretty sure no one chooses to be depressed. Saying this makes it sound like depression is a choice, something you can opt in or out of. And that just isn’t the case. So, just don’t say this to anyone. Ever.

  • “You have so much to be grateful for. So many people have it worse.”

Again, this is assuming that the person suffering from depression has chosen to feel this way. They are probably feeling guilty for being depressed and will be aware of the impact it may have on their loved ones. Comparing your own issues to others is so tempting but can be really harmful. Yes, other people may have it worse, but that does not make what you’re feeling any less valid. Try saying, “whatever you’re feeling is important” instead.

  • “Just do some exercise.”

Wow thank you SO much. What an insightful piece of advice. People suffering from depression will know all the things that supposedly help. They probably know that eating healthily, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness are all proven to aid mental health recovery. But don’t just assume that they haven’t tried these things already. Different things work for different people. Try saying, “is there anything I can do for you?” instead.

  • “You seem fine.”

People struggling with mental health are sometimes the best liars. You build a façade of someone who is fine. So yes, even though someone might seem fine, it absolutely does not mean that they are. Try saying, “how are you feeling?” instead.

  • “Cheer up.”

Just no. Depression is a medical illness. It is caused by chemical imbalance and lots of complex science which I won’t try and pretend like I understand. But I know that if people with depression could just ‘cheer up’ then they would. But they can’t. It is more complicated than that. So, don’t say things which belittle the severity of what they’re going through.

Useful resources-

Image provided by writer.

Posted in Longer reads, Mental Health

The Meghan and Harry interview- we need to stop questioning mental health issues

Trigger warning- depression, anxiety, suicide.

Well then. Have you seen it yet? THAT interview? The one that the World and its grandmother seems to be talking about? The one between the actress, war veteran and philanthropist? Otherwise known as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

I am not a royalist. I don’t feel that as a British citizen I should be indebted to an institution, which although embedded within our national history and identity, holds no relevance to my actual life. Saying this, I don’t overly dislike them either. Consider me Switzerland, happily neutral.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose to stand down from their royal duties, I didn’t really give it much thought. I admired them a little I suppose. Without knowing much about their personal troubles, I just saw a mother and father choosing to step away from something which clearly wasn’t bringing them happiness. I understand it’s a little deeper and more complicated than that. But on the surface, that is what it comes down to. And who would I be, a mere British citizen whose entire understanding of the royal family is based on The Crown, to judge them for it?

I watched the interview and like many people, was shocked by the revelations it held. However, this is not what I want to address. Many people have commented on the interview, and it has enough shocking content to be written about for years to come. What I am more hurt and frankly frightened by is the reaction by us, the British people, concerning the Duchess of Sussex’s mental health. Meghan bravely admitted to struggling severely with her mental health, including that she had suicidal thoughts.  She told Oprah that she “didn’t want to be alive anymore.” From reading articles, social media posts, and watching British morning breakfast television, I have seen and heard all of the following responses.

“Well, do we believe her?”

“I don’t believe a word of it”

“Another attempt for sympathy, how pathetic”

“Where is the evidence of any of this actually happening?”

Mental health issues are still seen as things which need justification. Validation. To be properly confirmed and proved before sympathy can be issued. This is unbelievably harmful and is a reason many people choose to not speak about their mental health. Imagine struggling with something so horrible, so personal, only to find yourself having to convince people to believe that those struggles are real. People who may be struggling right now are watching a woman being torn apart by the British public and press for admitting that she no longer wanted to live. We’re not talking that she was a bit upset, or lonely, or struggling to adapt to a new way of life. Meghan Markle wanted to die. She wanted to leave her loved ones behind because she couldn’t cope anymore. And the fact that this should be in any way questioned for its legitimacy is disgusting.

When Caroline Flack tragically took her own life in February 2020, my social media feeds were full of sympathy. “Be kind”, people would say, “you never know what someone is going through.” People are full of empathy and sorrow, which is often the case after a mental health tragedy. But what about now? What about when a woman is openly speaking of her suicidal thoughts. What I have seen and read will be a mere fraction of the comments made about the legitimacy of Meghan’s experiences. And it has to stop.

Writer Matt Haig is a prominent voice in the discussion of mental health online.

If someone had a broken bone, it would be treated immediately. Imagine the scenario of people surrounding you, lying on the floor in writhing pain and then being told, “right, before we help you in any way, we need to just check that your leg is actually broken, and that you need our help. This could just be for attention.” In this time, the pain is growing, becoming unbearable. You start to wish you had just tried to help yourself, instead of reaching out to others who seem to hold enough power to determine whether your pain is legitimate enough to be treated. This is true for thousands of mental health sufferers. And what’s worse, it has a domino effect. If someone hears or sees poor treatment of someone’s mental health, it will inevitably make them less likely to ask for help. If someone is called selfish, or attention-seeking, or a liar, then a silent sufferer will stay silent, out of fear of receiving the same treatment. The aftermath of the Meghan and Harry interview is doing this on a catastrophic scale.

We will find ourselves inundated in a mental-health pandemic within the next few years. COVID-19 has brought trauma, isolation, and grief in horrifying amounts, and it is more important than ever that mental-health is taken seriously.

So, whether you are a royalist or not, whether you believe Meghan and Harry or not, do not belittle mental health claims. If you find out someone is suffering, don’t let your first instinct be, “do I believe them”, but instead think about what you can do. The consequences otherwise can be devastating, and we all need to do better.

Matt Haig’s Instagram Account-

Posted in Mental Health

my mental health journey.

2016 was a bit of a ‘shitshow’ year for me. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I didn’t ask for help sooner.

You know the feeling when you’re trying desperately hard not to cry, and that lump forms in your throat which you have to forcibly swallow, but it hurts and takes your breath away slightly. Or the feeling when you’re teetering, balancing on a very thin needle’s point, feeling that even the slightest of movements will cause you to fall- and you’re not sure what will happen. Or when someone asks ‘are you okay’ when you are absolutely not okay, and it brings to the surface everything you have spent so long trying to cover up and hide.

Well for me, that was most of 2016.

I was at college, studying A level subjects which I really enjoyed. I had a good group of friends around me, and an incredibly supportive family. I was sociable. Happy. Yes, if you saw me, I think you would say I was a happy person. An organised, friendly student, successfully navigating her way through college and thinking about further university studies. I was fine.

‘I tried so hard to appease everyone around me and give them the version of me which I so desperately wanted to be

Except I wasn’t fine, and I didn’t really know how to process that. So I did what I think most of us do, and supress it. I tried so hard to appease everyone around me and give them the version of me which I so desperately wanted to be. I tried to manifest my getting better by purely pretending that none of my problems existed (10/10 do not recommend this approach). It worked for a little while. It got me through my A-level exams (just), although I do often wonder how that exam invigilator is doing; the one I broke down to just before my English Literature exam and who just stared at me with sheer panic before seating me at the back of the exam hall and giving me a squash and rich tea biscuit (the well-known pairing to help with an anxiety attack…). Before I knew it, exams were over and I was free, and that was when shit got really bad.

Sometimes it isn’t until you stop and take a breath that you allow yourself to actually feel everything you have spent so long trying to ignore. But in the summer of 2016 I allowed myself, for the first time, to be honest about how I was doing, both with myself and with my close family and a handful of very dear friends. And the truth was I wasn’t doing okay. You know those feelings I spoke about, the one when you’re trying not to cry, and feeling really on edge. Well I felt like that all the time. I’m talking a good 20 hours out of a 24 hour day were spent feeling like that. For weeks. I didn’t leave the house in about 3 weeks, and if I tried to it was a massive deal which inevitably ended up failing and me feeling like the biggest burden and nuisance in the World. I genuinely thought I had gone mad. That I was just really really odd. That there is no way anyone will understand if I try to explain how I’m feeling. That if I let people into my head they will either be frightened for me, or ashamed of me.

Like I mentioned, I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive family, whose patience and kindness was an absolute lifeline. It reached a point where we all collectively kind of went, ‘this can’t go on anymore, can it?’. No matter how hard they all tried, and no matter how much I willed myself to feel normal again, it wasn’t happening. And so, I went to the doctors. I was honest with how I was feeling. I said I thought I was going mad and that I felt bad for wasting her time as I didn’t think there was anything she could do to help. And then she said it, clear and simple.

“You’re not mad. I think you’re struggling with an anxiety and panic disorder”

Just like that, life started to regain some colour. I was like ‘oh’, so I’m not mad, or weird, or thinking this is all happening in my head and that I need to just ‘get a grip’. This is an actual thing. A scientific thing. Which I can get help with.

It definitely wasn’t smooth sailing after that visit. What followed were months of frustrations and failures, tears and tribulations (I realise I’m sounding dramatic but just go with me). But eventually, once I had realised that helping myself, through therapy and medication, was the best way forward, I slowly started to feel, well, like myself again.

Now what was the point of all of that?

I suppose it has been playing on my mind because after a year of being off medication for anxiety, I have been prescribed it again. I have to force myself to not see this as a failure. Because really it does feel like a step backwards. But in some way, it is also a massive step forward. I didn’t have half as many fears and doubts as I spoke with the doctor. I am more open with the people in my life (and apparently anyone who has managed to read this far) about my mental health. And I recognised quicker that actually, I’m not doing too well. And you know what? That is okay.

If something is bothering you and causing you distress, then it is worthy of a conversation

Everyone has problems and things in their lives they wish they could change, and they are all at varying degrees of severity. I realise that I am actually incredibly lucky, and I really try to not take things in my life for granted. But at the same time, if something is bothering you and causing you distress, then it is worthy of a conversation, of help, and of kindness.

Anyone who knows me personally knows I talk about mental health a lot. And I suppose its because I wish that I had heard conversations about it more when I was struggling. It would have made such a massive difference in making me feel more normal. More accepted. So, if one person reads this and feels slightly less alone, or slightly less angry at themselves for not being the person they so desperately want to be, then I would feel all of this ramble was worth it. To anyone who read this far, congratulations, and thank you. You either care about me a lot which I appreciate, or are just nosey, which I also rate highly.

Final words of wisdom? Be unapologetic in needing to look after yourself.

You are worthy of help, always.