Mental health awareness day was this week: It’s a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma, so it felt right to do another post about mental health.
Why is mental health awareness so important?
This year an article was published in Science showing that up to 1/3 of PhD students will suffer mental health problems during their period of study. The “2nd year slump” is a well known phenomena that PhD students openly talk about to each other. However, despite this knowledge there is still a huge stigma surrounding Mental health in PhDs. Some PhDs even consider periods of extreme depression and anxiety as a ‘normal part’ of the PhD experience, and so plough on, bottling up their thoughts and feelings.
Some who do pluck up the courage to talk about how they are feeling are faced with replies such as ‘everyone feels like that, just get on with it’, or a simple ‘just think calm thoughts’. Hopefully, as the awareness of mental health improves people will come to understand this huge spectrum of illnesses more, and realise its not just as easy as ‘thinking happy thoughts’.
Luckily for me, I have two supervisors who were extremely supportive of me, a Lab full of amazing friends who helped me through my toughest times, and a great circle of friends and family I can talk to. But, despite this I can find myself slipping- CBT has been a massive help, but even with the knowledge I have gained from short courses, my wellbeing can quickly fall.
This is where you need to look out for your signs– signs that actually, maybe you are not doing so well. When you see these things, you can start to take action and help yourself.
There are many forms of mental health, and people can suffer from a huge spectrum of symptoms. One persons experience of anxiety and depression may not be the same as another’s- but there are still signs that you can watch out for in yourself- as well as in others- and I am going to share with you some of mine.
Signs to watch out for in yourself
Lack of concentration
When I am going through periods of heightened anxiety my thoughts try to go in every direction at once. This lack of concentration is hard to explain- as its not simple lack of concentration like you get when you are tired or bored. My thoughts slide wildly from one thing to another, never really processing any one input. I find that just 5 minutes into a TV show I will be completely lost.
Things not bringing enjoyment
I really enjoy cooking, but again, during a period of stress I lose any motivation to cook. I see it not as something I enjoy and want to do, but as something that has to be done. I often end up relying purely on shop bought meals, or frozen pre-made meals I have made which I can just warm up- often these meals give me no enjoyment from eating either.
I am not the most tidy person, but I am also not messy. Until I am in a low mood- or notice that I am in a low mood. Suddenly, I look around my bedroom and see that mess has crept up on me- My desk is now covered in piles of things, I have shopping bags piled in a corner, my bin is full. Its not massive mess- but a lot more messy than normal.
I don’t want to talk to people as much- text messages go unanswered, and Facebook messages unread. I may cancel events, and instead stay at home.
This also leads to me feeling lonely- even though I know I have friends, that I have people to talk to. You feel isolated in every sense of the word- which oddly makes you want to stay in isolation- your safe place, more.
I think these last two points are good markers of mental stress in others, and something to watch out for in loved ones. Isolation and a lack of general care concerning home environment and appearance are pretty common in many going through periods of mental stress.
Signs you can watch out for in others, and what you can do to help
If you have a friend or a colleague who is normally super outgoing, smiley and chatty who suddenly starts to withdraw into themselves- there may be something going on. A simple ‘how are you?’ or a ‘want to have a break and get a coffee’ can sometimes be enough to break through.
You can not tell what is going on just by the appearance of someone #whatdepressionlookslike on Instagram is proof of this. You do not know what is going on in someone’s head unless you ask them. So, try and take the time- talk to your work colleagues, your friends, and family- not just via text- but in person! Face to face talking is very different, its a lot more personal, and that helps.
And, odd as it might be, keep on sending texts and messages even if they don’t reply- not like ‘why aren’t you replying?’, ‘what are you up to?’ type things, just a simple ‘hope you are ok‘. Receiving a message like this can really help- it makes you know someone is out there who cares about you, and that can be enough.
Support from friends and family can make all the difference to recovery.
Finally, mental health can be difficult to talk about, and some people can just get it wrong– often due to a lack of understanding about what it is like. Here is a very quick list of some things to not say to someone with depression/anxiety ect…
- Smile, it can’t be that bad
- Don’t stress/ Calm down
- Don’t think about it
- Just get on with it/ get over it
- It’s all in your head
- You have nothing to worry about
- You just need to be more positive
- Come on, everyone feels a little down
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself
- Remember, there are lots of people worse off than you
- How are you?
- I am always here to listen if you need it
- If there is anything I can do to help, let me know
Be supportive, but don’t pressurise someone: if they don’t want to go out that’s fine, why don’t you instead go and visit them? And if needed, be proactive- if someone is not in a place where they can help themselves, offer to help them- with shopping, cooking meals, provide information, or offer to make an appointment.
More information and help: