Emma, February 5, 2019

Dear Unfamiliar,

You've never experienced these symptoms yourself and you've never known someone who suffers from a mental illness, so you've never truly understood. Subconsciously you stigmatized those individuals but only because you hear things on the tv, on the radio and all over social media. I understand that it must be hard to know that mental illness is so irrational. It can make people do things that you wouldn't. It causes death. Yet you don't know anything about it. Subconsciously you've feared it, you've ignored it and you've tried to rationalise it so that it can make sense to you. It will never make sense. It's not in your playbook. It's not set by any rules. And it definitely is not mediocre.

Mental health problems are all around you

I'm not writing this letter to tell you to go achieve a qualification in mental health. I'm not telling you to go to your nearest hospital and start asking the individual that was admitted last night for self-harm. Mental Illness is right around the corner. It's your neighbour, your taxi driver, the lady that serves you your weekly groceries. It may even be your friend or family member but you've never noticed the symptoms so you've never asked and had a conversation about mental health.

It might be good for you to know that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes. You might have already heard about PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder), post-natal depression or eating disorders. There's also ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder). Stress can lead to anxiety which can often trigger depression, but don't forget bipolar and schizophrenia. Mental illness is not so easily seen by the naked eye, not like a limb in a cast. Sometimes symptoms can be seen and if you know someone well then their personality will be greatly affected.

Have you ever witnessed a friend starting to excessively worry over problems you would have disregarded after a week. Maybe a colleague who has trouble concentrating, you've heard they've got problems sleeping and you've noticed their mood shifts quickly. It could have been that family member who acts withdrawn from all activities, they've lost their appetite and they've become more anxious and hostile to their surroundings. I bet that got you thinking.

A common theme is that it's not easy to get someone to open up, they've closed themselves off thinking they're alone in this. They become stubborn with regards to their internal battle and like an animal smells fear they sense that you have no idea what they're going through. Do you know what you would say?

Every person's battle is different and I don't just mean what they're going through but them as individuals, they are different. No two people are the same. Two people from separate corners of the Earth could be going through the same experiences but feeling and coping a different way. Do you understand?

What stops many from talking is the fear of judgement or opinion. If you're going to talk then you should do most of the listening. Don't compare. Don't devalue their feelings. Don't be optimistic on their behalf. You'll have experienced moments yourself when it seems someone is saying completely the wrong things to you. Listen don't preach.

The fear of judgement stops people talking

Most struggling with mental illness just need support, only they know what will help them, only they are in their own heads. Maybe they need to seek professional help from someone who knows better than you but don't force that. Sufferers also like to hide, they try to seem capable and some may be, some may have admitted they have an illness and learned how to cope but some may still be keeping themselves in the dark on purpose. Do you think you can turn the light on for them?

Subconsciously you stigmatized but now it's time to talk. Talk to understand. Talk to listen. Talk to make a difference.

And if you're not feeling up for it, you could always go to your nearest hospital and talk to the parents of the person that just took their life because they didn't talk.

Support do not stigmatise. Talk do not turn a blind eye.

Yours Sincerely,

M. Health

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