Living with a mental illness can be extremely isolating and lonely. The relationship is two-way: others may not reach out as you have been understandably distant due to feeling unwell, and you may not contact others for the same reasons. It’s a vicious cycle.
I find it very hard to open up and express my feelings. Having depression means that I feel like I am worthless, carrying around in my head that I am “unworthy” of other people. If I feel worthless, I’m not likely to contact others as I don’t feel I deserve their attention.
During my gap year I felt very, very isolated. I’d taken a year off as I knew I wasn’t well enough to go to university. All my school friends were doing other things and starting to live their new lives. Yet I was stuck, in some ways getting worse. I spent most of my year trapped in crippling social anxiety. I had little social contact outside my immediate family, even being too anxious to be served by cashiers. Life was very restricted. Friends were understandably busy, and I was slipping into feeling more worthless.
Although social contact was hard, messages from other people meant the world to me, but they were few and far between. It would have helped so much if more people had reached out and asked how I was, even if at the time all I could respond was “not great”.
The #AskTwice campaign can have such a great impact, as the simple act of someone really asking how I was would have really helped me in my isolated year. It would have made me feel that I wasn’t alone, and that people did care. To me, the campaign requires action by both those who ask and the receiver. When I started to be more open about things I was struggling with, more people started to check in and find out how I was doing.
Sometimes it isn’t as straightforward as “How are you?”, as we are so used to saying “Fine, thanks” in response. I am naturally reserved, and one ask alone wouldn’t be inviting enough for me to talk about things that are bothering me. This is likely due to the stigma around talking about negative feelings and thoughts, ones that everyone has but feels too ashamed to share. My close friends ask how my weekend was, how university is going, what I did at the weekend. This invites me to start talking about anything so that I might start to open up about how I’ve been doing. They are able to show me that they do want to listen to me, leaving the door open to discuss what I feel I am able to.
I’ve started to make a difference in my responses when people ask how I am. If I am having a rough time, I’ll try to respond that I am. It allows other people to feel more comfortable in knowing that they can share their true feelings too, breaking the cycle of the “Fine, thanks” response that dominates our interactions.
The #AskTwice campaign can have such a widespread effect, as not only does it give a platform for those who are unwell to be listened to, but it makes us all aware that not everyone is “Fine” all the time.
One reason the stigma around talking about mental health persists is that often people feel they don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling. However, all that is needed is the ability to listen – you don’t need to try and fix the problem. Check in with friends and make sure to #AskTwice to show that you really do care and are ready to listen.