February 1st is Time to Talk Day. This is a day that aims at bringing us all together and talking about mental health problems- and breaking the silence.
Mental health problems can affect anyone, for a whole host of reasons. And yet, there is still a stigma surrounding openly talking about mental health. This, thankfully, is getting better- but there is still a way to go.
Last year a poll came out which showed that 1 in 5 people who have experienced stigma have gone on to lose their job, or lost contact with a loved one. Often this is because of a lack of understanding- but how do you increase understanding about something unless you talk about it?
Mental health issues are varied- from anxiety, to depression,to personality disorders. And, can also affect people very differently- for example, someone with anxiety may get severe panic attacks, or show anxiety as OCD symptoms, some sufferers may not even be able to leave the house. In some cases you may not even see what is happening on the inside. Everyones mental health experiences are different, and no less valid than each other.
Periods of mental illness also vary- it can be short term: a few weeks, to long term- years. Again, neither case is more or less valid than the other.
If you are in a period of mental stress do not think that just because its only been a week, a month, that you shouldn’t voice how you are feeling. That your mental illness isn’t “enough”. Open up to a friend or family member- someone who you trust. Yes, its a big topic and its not going to be easy- there is no right way to bring up the topic, and it can seem awkward at first, but it gets easier with time, and you will see the benefits too.
If someone comes to you make sure that you lend a supportive ear- but remember don’t wait for someone to come to you. If you have noticed a change in someone that you are friends with or work with, try and get a conversation started. Ask the simple question “how are you?”. You don’t need to get into the big stuff straight away. Also remember that it takes time to be ready to talk about mental health openly- so don’t pressurise someone.
Not sure how to get a conversation going?
Here are some great tips from the Time to change website:
- Start Small- a text asking how your day has been, simply saying you are around if they need to talk… it doesn’t need to be a big gesture.
- Find a good time and place- it can be easier to get a conversation going sitting side by side rather than face to face. How about suggesting going on a walk?
- Ask questions- but don’t probe!
- Be open
- Treat them the same.
If you are unsure how to broach mental health as a subject, or have any questions make sure you check out the Time to change website, as well as Mind, and Rethink mental illness.
For other PhD students:
If you are a PhD student- you are more than likely not alone. In fact, up to 1 in 4 PhD students may experience mental health problems during their PhD. How about setting up some activities with other PhDs- like a coffee morning, or an organised walking group? It may not be an instantaneous success, but once the ball starts rolling you will be amazed with what can be achieved- and sharing experiences and stories with peers can really help.
In addition, if you are really struggling make sure you make use of resources provided by the university or research institute- from general wellbeing how to sessions, to one on one counselling.
I have written a few posts about anxiety and depression- and have linked a few below, which may give you some insight into this area of mental illness. (check out the mental health tab for more related posts)
Lets talk openly about mental health- I don’t mind answering any questions, so please do drop me a message!