The other day, I wasn’t feeling quite right. A few things were getting on top of me at work and at home, and I was talking to a friend about how I felt. We were discussing whether I should take a day off, and he said that he would never admit that he wasn’t coping to his work, and would probably just say that he was feeling a bit sick.
This got me thinking: it’s my mental health, so if I am not coping, why should I not be upfront and say that I am struggling? I will be honest that I do struggle sometimes to cope and have down days, but why should I hide this and say I need to take a bit time off because of it?
How will we ever remove the stigma that exists around mental health, if we are not able to be honest how we feel? We can hurt a leg and say we went to the doctor or to hospital, so why not be able to say that I have sought help from a helpline? I was not feeling great the other day and the self-care tools I’ve gathered didn’t work, so I called someone, acknowledging I needed some external support.
I was shocked that my friend said he would feel ashamed to open up about mental health. We talk about football, for instance, but when it comes to our mental health we hide it like it’s something sordid and shameful. We should never feel ashamed: in my opinion, it’s brave to admit that you need help with something.
By opening up, we can make mental health normal so that other men don’t think that they’re weak, or that they need to ‘man up’. So why are there so few of us willing to openly share? We know why, for the same reasons as my colleagues told me; fear of being seen as weak.
Alongside this, I believe the language, narrative and images used to illustrate mental ill health needs to change. Some of the most energetic, dynamic and creative people I know have experienced serious mental health issues, yet the generic pictures we see of people with their heads in their hands don’t reflect the reality.
I long for the day when companies truly encourage employees to talk about their mental ill health. In my role as a Mental Health Ambassador at work, I always think how I can change perceptions and reduce stigma. It is so important that we are able to talk about how we’re feeling, and to say if we’re not feeling great. That is why I work tirelessly to change the way people talk, think and perceive mental health by promoting events, wellbeing walks etc and being open about my own mental health. I see every time there is an event like Mental Health Awareness Week, that mental health is back on the agenda but we need to see the day when mental health is as normalized as physical health.