On Talking: Some Thoughts on Mental Health

We are told to talk.
Talking will change things;
Talking will ‘end the stigma‘.

I have talked,
I am still talking,
Talking is not enough.

Today is World Mental Health Day; the day that social media feeds are filled with posts about people’s experience of poor mental health, photographs of anxiety meds and anti-depressants flood Instagram and Twitter in an effort to normalise these experiences and end the stigma.

This happens every year, and it’s not enough.

Talking is good, I agree with that, but we are talking. I talk regularly about my mental health – I’ve posted about what it was like to be diagnosed with depression whilst doing a PhD and that post has been read by hundreds of people, and I’m very open with friends and colleagues about the fact that sometimes my brain just doesn’t work how I want it to. I’ve emailed my supervisors and colleagues asking to reschedule meetings because I just couldn’t think properly that day, I’ve convinced my boyfriend to travel to a conference with me because I felt too anxious to go alone. I’ve been there, and I’ve been brutally open and honest about it. I’m not ashamed, I talk about the fact that without my ‘delicious antidepressants’ I might not have got out of bed that day.

I talked to my Doctor. I paid to talk to a counsellor, that didn’t work for me and it wasn’t sustainable (£40 for a 50 minute session). I waited 18 months until I could talk to a counsellor on the NHS, and she told me to think about losing weight, doing some exercise and eating more healthily (she hadn’t asked how much exercise I was doing or what my diet was like).

Talking is not enough.

Talking may work to ‘end the stigma’, but ending the stigma is not enough.
We need action.

Earlier this year I read an article in The Metro that summed up my thoughts pretty well:

Theresa May said last year, ‘We must get over the stigma’. Okay, lip service paid. But then, as part of the same speech, she says it’s ‘wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding’ and that no more money will be available to develop services. It feels like being told: ‘Sorry pal, we know your leg’s broken. We can’t put a cast on it right now (budget cuts), but just know that we’re working to reduce the stigma against users of crutches. Off you go.’”

On this World Mental Health Day, instead of posting on social media, don’t just like and retweet the posts you see about mental ill health, do something about it.

Ask for change:
Petition – Drastically improve funding for Mental Health Services within the UK
Petition – Fund facilities for people who feel suicidal so they always have somewhere to go
Contact your MP
Work to make your workplace more mentally healthy with this 7-step guide
If you are able to, donate to local organisations that are working to keep mental health services and support in place in your community Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Support in Mind Scotland.

If you are in the UK and you need access to mental health help and support services, please take a look here.

On Taking a ‘Mental Health’ Day

The idea of a ‘mental-health’ day was first introduced to me at the age of about 16 when the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist came out. The film starts with Michael Cera’s character, Nick, taking a ‘mental health’ day from school, which finds him burning mix CDs in honor of his lost love. Predictably, 16 year old me thought this film was amazing. At the age of 25 I haven’t watched it since, and I suspect I might not have the same feelings about it – so don’t take this as a recommendation.

Anyway.. at that point I didn’t reallyget  mental health days – I thought they were designed as a way to get out of school/stuff you didn’t want to do, and that you spent the day overdosing on carbs and feeling sorry for yourself. Turns out, that’s not (always) the case.
Confession time: I took a mental health day last week. My relationship isn’t crumbling, my family are mostly fine, and my friends are all just as sassy and hilarious as usual – so what prompted this? Honestly, I just felt really overwhelmed.

My PhD is on track, I’m still really enjoying the work, and I feel like I’m making progress at the right pace – whatever that is. One day last week I just wasn’t feeling it though. My alarm went off and I did the usual email-checking whilst still in bed, I got up, got ready and had breakfast as normal, and then I didn’t go into work. Instead I got some house jobs done (anyone else’s boyfriend not know that bedding should be changed regularly?!), I watched some really terrible TV, and I slowly got on with some of the less-brain tasking things on my to-do list. On paper, it wasn’t the most productive day.

The next day I went back into the office with a new sense of determination, I felt motivated again and I was excited to go to work. I don’t take these mental health days very often, but sometimes it’s really important to. If I hadn’t I can guarantee I’d had been horrendously unproductive, and grouchy and annoyed at myself as a result. So I guess the point of this post is to highlight the fact that everyone needs space every now and again, even if they do love their work. If you genuinely need a day away from whatever you’re doing then take time to step back; I was really glad that I did, and shockingly, the world didn’t stop when it realised I wasn’t sitting at my desk for one day.