It’s international mental health day, and I think it’s a great time to celebrate society becoming more open and honest about mental health struggles. In the past we’ve lost many people who felt unable to talk about what they faced, so I just want to preface this article by saying if you are feeling extremely low – you don’t have to read this. Click here for the NHS England mental health helpline or call 111/999 anywhere else in the UK if you feel you are in immediate danger, the world will be glad you called.
mentalhealth.org.uk report that as far back as 2000, around 25% of people aged 16-74 was receiving treatment with symptoms of a common mental health problem. This can manifest itself in any number of ways; and treatments are accompanied by varying degrees of success. Thankfully, over the last 20 years the culture of keeping it inside has begun to dissipate and people are more open about their struggles with mental health. However people who unexpectedly find their relatives, friends, significant others – whoever it may be – to be experiencing difficulties can struggle with feelings of hopelessness and a mistaken belief that it is somehow their fault. Whilst not necessarily suffering from mental health disorders themselves, helping someone who is struggling is difficult and takes a toll when they feel there is nobody to talk to about it.
I have certainly experienced this. I don’t want to go into much detail for the sake of our mutual privacy, but when people close to me struggled with depression or overwhelming feelings of grief I often felt that there was nothing I could do except try to bear some of the load. In certain cases, I felt it was my fault there was nothing I could do to make these feelings go away. You find yourself asking, ‘If I love and care about these people so much and want them to be happy, what am I doing that’s making them feel so bad?’ It becomes especially difficult when a person confides in you, which is tremendously difficult for them, but also puts a lot of pressure on the confidant.
An important thing to remember is that it isn’t your fault your partner, parent, friend, etc., etc., is struggling with their mental health. There are a whole host of reasons why mental health difficulties can manifest themselves, but children aren’t born bent on making their parents’ lives a living hell. Often, you weren’t present for all the formative years in people’s lives and you certainly don’t have a comprehensive breakdown of the genes a person may or may not have inherited. As long as you do your best to conduct yourself in a conscientious manner and be respectful of what may or may not be a trigger for someone who is struggling, you shouldn’t hold yourself responsible for their difficulties.
At the same time, you shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden alone. Whilst there are steps you can take if they aren’t quite comfortable talking to a professional, you aren’t their doctor and you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to ‘fix’ people. Nobody is broken, and it’s common to need a little bit of help from time to time. As I said earlier, you may not think of yourself as struggling with your own mental health, but it can be incredibly cathartic to talk to someone about how the situation is affecting you. Some universities offer free access to anonymous online services such as “togetherall” (formerly BigWhiteWall) where you can talk to guides about your feelings or interact with people who are in a similar situation to yourself. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or embrassed about using a webite or phoning a helpline for help if you can’t find a trusted friend to talk to. Even just writing your feelings down so they aren’t a constant pressure in your head can be quite cathartic.
It’s never easy to see people you care about struggle. But it’s important to remember that you are cared about as well.
NHS Resources available at this link