Talking about mental health has made big steps in the last few years but there’s still a huge stigma associated with reaching out for help and being open about our struggles. Taking time off work for illness that manifests itself in physical symptoms can feel a lot easier and more justifiable than for anxiety and depression for example. There can be guilt and shame associated with taking time off for mental health ailments - especially if there are no physical symptoms for co-workers to see. This is compounded by our country’s appalling statutory sick pay policy of £96.35 per week. Other companies might offer better sick pay but there’s really no wonder that British people rarely call in sick - or that they eventually get so sick with stress that they’re signed off for months at a time.
I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs in the last 10 years but losing my Dad in late 2015 was easily the worst. He was an active, extremely fit, strong and health conscious man so it was a huge shock when he suffered a massive heart attack in his sleep and passed away. Having a parent ripped away overnight was absolutely devastating for my whole family, especially my Mum. Grief manifests itself in lots of different ways and I think that we all dealt with his death at varying paces. I went into autopilot a little bit and didn’t really let myself cry until the end of his funeral.
For me, that’s when I first really experienced anxiety. Having a constant variable taken away knocks you for two and it meant that for a while I had a hard time trusting or committing my time to anyone in particular - in case I got attached and then they too were taken away from me. I felt abandoned by him in some respects and I probably won’t ever get over that sudden loss. I began to feel anxious for no real reason that I could pin down. But some days it meant that I didn’t want to leave the house. Didn’t want to go to university lectures or go to work because of the horrendous feeling in my chest. Thankfully I had an amazing support network around me and I had friends to talk to. But what if I didn’t have someone to listen to me? What if I felt like when I talked about it, I was burdening someone with my problems?
These days I can go days without thinking about his death too much but I’ll usually have a big cry every 1-2 months when I really miss him. Occasionally I write letters to him that I just stick in an envelope on my bookcase too. I’ve never read them back but it feels good to get things off my chest and it’s especially useful if I’m feeling that extra bit down or anxious. I dream about him most nights, mostly nice dreams but sometimes nightmares. So maybe I’ll never get over it but at least it’s gotten a little easier.
I’m so grateful for my family, my close friends and my partner, Sam, for the support they’ve given me in the last 10 years. I’ve been very lucky to have people I felt able to talk to and initiate conversations with when I’m feeling sad. So I think it’s really really important that we all try to provide that support network for the others around us.
Not everyone finds it easy to bring up that they’re feeling down or that they’re struggling with their friends or family. That means it’s our responsibility to reach out to those around us and create a safe environment for those kinds of conversations. Remove the shame associated with not having your shit together. Social media and the way the world is these days means that everyone seems like they’re having the best time, all the time. And that’s simply not the case. Sometimes you want to sit in your pants, eat chocolate and cry.
Maybe you know someone that is having a hard time at work, someone that’s struggling financially or someone that’s lost a loved one. Maybe you’ve not heard from a friend for a while or they seem a little closed off and distant. Ask them if they’re ok and then ask them again to double check. Get them out for a coffee or for a walk and then just listen.
If you’re struggling yourself then reach out for help. Reach out for a chat. It’s scary making yourself vulnerable that way but if a friend isn’t willing to listen then perhaps that’s for the best anyway. You could seek out professional help or just a support group for people with shared experiences too if you don’t want to talk to family members!
Whatever your experience with mental health, don’t suffer in silence. It’s time to talk. So talk.
This short blog post was inspired by Time To Talk Day 3/2/2022, a national mental health conversation run by Mind. I have personally done a lot of fundraising for York Mind and I think that the work the whole charity does is super important! If you’d like to read more about Time To Talk Day then visit https://timetotalkday.co.uk.
There are lots of services available to you if you’re feeling down or really suffering with your mental health. I’ll list a few below:
York Mind https://www.yorkmind.org.uk
National Suicide Prevention Helpline https://www.spbristol.org/NSPHUK
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline https://switchboard.lgbt
Thanks for reading - I hope this prompts someone to seek help before it gets worse and you see a light at the end of the tunnel you’re in.