Mental Health Is A Major Problem
Mental health continues to be a significant concern. It’s an issue that our health services and society struggle to cope with. The statistics suggest one in four people suffers from a mental illness. The cost to the UK economy of mental illness is £35 billion annually.
Behind the raw numbers, there are worrying sub-sectors, such as suicide rates. 20% of people have suicidal thoughts. 7% attempt suicide and a similar number self-harm. Roughly 6,000 suicides a year in the UK, and the number is not coming down. 75% of suicides are men, with middle age seeing the highest incidence.
I want to ask people who have experienced mental health issues to help those struggling. Take your mental health experience and pay it forward. Between 70% and 75% of people with mental health issues are not receiving any treatment. That’s shocking. Whether it’s the overwhelmed NHS or people afraid to speak up about their issues, many people need help.
Can We Talk About Mental Health?
There is more discussion on the subject of mental health today. Prominent celebrities and sportspeople, for example, speak up and help others to open up about their struggles. That’s helpful to some extent. There is a level of performative dialogue, as happens when any social shift occurs. Sadly, some can use it to inflate their social media credibility. Some can accuse others of using mental health to cover a perceived failure. Yet this is all white noise. Look past this to find someone who needs help.
If you have suffered or do suffer a mental illness then you know what a lonely and isolated place that is. There’s your starting point; empathy. That’s your superpower. You have experienced being asked how you are, and you replying “ok”. Of course, when you are the furthest it’s possible to be from “ok”.
As an older man, I have been through decades of mental health struggles. The loneliness crushes you. The confusion; I couldn’t name mental illness as a young man. I was simply “a bit odd” or “an angry young man”. It was my fifth decade before I found my way to the doorstep of a therapist. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t had to go through the process. Of wondering if it’s ok to talk to someone. Where to get support from. Afraid of losing your job. Not wanting to be isolated by people.
Mental Health – Pay It Forward
I admire everyone who steps up and tells the world about their battle with mental health. Because each story chips away at the prejudice. There’s more we can do. You don’t have to be a mental health professional. Don’t be afraid of discussing someone’s mental health. It’s alright to talk about a person’s suicidal thoughts. Again I leave the advice to the experts here, here, and here.
If you feel in a position to help someone suffering from a mental health problem, do so. Take your lived experience with your health and use it to support someone else. Pay it forward. It can help another person immensely. You may well find it helps you too. After all, sufferers from anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness can find that healing is a lifelong undertaking.
The most potent inflection points in my recovery were conversations with people. Quite often, unexpected people. We aren’t all equipped to talk to someone about their suicidal thoughts. I have a couple of very dear friends of over thirty and forty years, respectively, and they couldn’t help me. I could feel their burning impotence when it came to me saying, “I’m totally fucked, mate”. But this is the reason people who have been there and dealt with mental health issues are well-placed to have a positive effect.
Don’t Believe The OK
I have paid my experience forward six times in the last six months. In all cases, it helped the other party. This is not the part where I go off on a humble brag. This is the part where I tell you to act. And that it can be anything from one conversation to an ongoing check-in and mentoring arrangement. Let the other person lead. You are there to listen and support, that’s it. The person in front of you sets the pace.
In one instance, a stilted hello led to a long conversation in which someone told me their story. I listened and said the odd thing and we had a hug and parted, and we message each other every so often. Another person gave major “I’m ok” verbal statements while radiating a lost air. I asked the person if they were alright, really alright, and the answer was no. I could give advice and point this person in the direction of some practical help. A third was another where another “ok” was quickly followed by welling up and “shit actually”. A long listening session occurred, and when I saw this person again some months later they were in a positive place, and we reflected on the day we talked.
Again, this is no humble brag. Two different things happened here. Someone wanted to talk about something profoundly traumatic, and I listened and said very little. In the other two instances, I did not buy the “ok”. Maybe it sounds intrusive, but I gently persisted, and once the first desperate defence mechanism was gone, the other person could then move forward and express their challenges to me. I’m no expert; I have no training. I do have a family-sized can of empathy, and that helped me to help someone.
Use Your Superpower
I believe in the mental health pay-it-forward principle. If you’ve been there, you know how tough it is to be alone. Alone and scared, or lost. Your superpower of empathy can help you smell out the coping and defence mechanisms. It knows how to proceed when it comes to listening when it comes to the gentle coaxing to get past the “ok”. Your empathy knows that while an outpouring of visceral emotion is more than likely happening to the person in front of you, there will also be a huge relief of pressure and a chance for them to download.
If you have suffered from mental illness in the past and you are feeling in a good place, consider helping someone. And remember, it will likely help your journey too.
Please feel free to contact me here. Feel free to give my details to anyone who may want to have a chat. Let me know if you want to help someone, and let’s see if we can make that happen. If it’s a case of just wanting to say hello to me, reach out. Most importantly, remember there is someone in your life, someone close to you, who would appreciate a conversation. Trust me; there is someone close by.
Do Me A Favour
If I could ask a favour? If this resonates with you in any way, please, as well as paying it forward yourself, pass this thought to someone else. The more people who give this a crack, the more we can continue to integrate the subject of mental health into the mainstream. We can make those conversations everyday conversations. We can move towards each other and ease the pain of the silent suffering many of us have experienced and do experience.