When was the last time you talked to someone about mental health? A proper conversation I mean; not a workplace discussion about a shocking news report, or a chat with your friend about a gripping TV plotline. I mean a real, in-depth, bare-all conversation with a friend or relative about their mental health, or your mental health, or why you were crying last week or how an issue at work made you feel. Because it is really that simple – you don’t need to have been diagnosed with a major mental health condition to warrant a chat about your feelings. Maybe that’s what we’re all forgetting these days.
The ‘Time to Talk’ campaign from Time to Change highlights this issue each year and encourages us all to talk about mental health. It does beg belief that we don’t talk about it more already, and when I began to think about it I realised, as a nation, just how stigmatised we have become.
People having trouble with their mental health just don’t feel like they can talk. All a person like this wants is acceptance, maybe before even understanding, but society’s first instinct is to run away or ignore. I remember standing in Lush last year when a man walked in and started talking to me. The poor guy clearly had some mental health problems and he proceeded to question why I wasn’t wearing any socks with my trainers! I just smiled and agreed that I was silly to be doing such a thing. After a few minutes chatting I realised that people around me were shying away, hurriedly doing their shopping and leaving the store, some even pulling their children closer to them. How will isolation ever solve this problem? I talked to that man for as long as he pleased and he left with a smile. Maybe that one little conversation, however ‘silly’ it was, would have just made his day. Who else would have stopped and given him a voice?
Finding your voice when you have a mental health condition can be one of the biggest challenges you face in your fight. I’ve suffered with various spells of depression and anxiety since my teenage years but it was only fairly recently that I decided to open up about it all, and things have only got better since.
I started with personal social media – openly admitting my struggles to friends. I wrote a piece about the power of words which was shortlisted for the Wicked Young Writer awards in 2016. Then I decided to go big and pitch myself to the media.
I’m now a media volunteer and case study for several major mental health charities. I’ve told my story to outlets as big as BBC Newsbeat and as small as a student’s final degree project. No matter how big the audience, the media work I have done has led to conversations that I’ve never had before; with friends and with strangers. Sharing those articles has sparked discussion with the unlikeliest of people.
And that leads me to 2017. The year I had an in-depth heart to heart with my dad in a London burger bar about how I was struggling at the moment and how they could help me progress and get back to where I was a few years ago. The year I proudly told an interview panel that I suffered with anxiety, and still got the job. The year I started my job and almost burst with emotion when the director told me ‘not to worry about it’ and my manager asked what they could do to help.
They want to understand how I feel. It’s beyond refreshing. My philosophy has served true – if we don’t talk about it more we will never break the stigma. Are the tides finally changing?
— Rochelle Bisson (@rochellebalboa) June 24, 2016
So that brings me back to today. Time to Talk. Why aren’t we talking? Are people fearful of what they might uncover? Are they scared of accusation or offence? We’re not in the Middle Ages anymore – depression is not a crime. Stop thinking about the negatives and start focusing on the positives. If you have the right approach you can make people feel on top of the world. If you uncover something serious you could start someone on their road to recovery.
Ultimately we want acceptance. If I was talking to you right now about my anxiety problems, the best thing you can do is listen and then tell me it’s going to be ok. If we start to react with immediate, unapologetic acceptance then we can move on to understanding, and that’s where the real winner is.
So go out into the world today and talk… accept… and then try to understand. And if you’re a fellow sufferer, find the courage to start that conversation.