February 1, 2017

Image credit: Cole Hutson

I kept my mental health issues secret from everyone I knew for ten months. It was a mental problem, but I could feel the weight of that problem physically weighing me down every single day.

Contemplating suicide, alone, as a 20-year old who was meant to be out enjoying the “best years of his life”, was an incredibly difficult thing to have to wake up to and think about everyday.

But, a few conversations truly saved my life. I can put it down to three key conversations; a conversation with my then-girlfriend, my parents, and a family friend.

I was kind of forced into having a conversation with my ex-girlfriend, who also forced me to have a conversation with my parents, who then got me in touch with the family friend. I was angry at the time with everyone getting involved, but knowing what I know now, I wish I’d had that first conversation with someone ten months earlier.

Now, am I going to sit here and say that my parents, my ex-girlfriend, or even myself had an easy conversation where everything was understood quickly, and we solved the problem just like that?

Of course not, and it was a difficult time for all of us trying to figure out what was happening inside my head. But, in time, we all came to learn just how powerful a conversation or a few words can be.

My parents quickly learnt that what they thought may have been throwaway, helpful statements like “it’s just in your head” can cripple a depressed person. But without researching and talking about these things together, we never would have found the right approach to tackling my black dog.

Our conversations started off tough and awkward, and I avoided them at all costs to be honest. When I first started therapy, I hated talking about how I was doing, because I wasn’t doing any better and I couldn’t bear to let them know that.

But I started to get better, and our conversations changed. They became positive and inspiring, and we all felt hopeful enough to start talking about the future again – something I’d missed doing for so long.

Then I started to look forward to these conversations, and they’d become a centrepiece of my days, by which point I’d broadened out to tell my closest friends as well. I now had a network that I’d created of family, friends, and therapists who were constantly checking in with me, and together we were all getting through it.

These conversations became my absolute bedrock. These people were there for me when I finally started laughing again, but they were also there for me when I’d give up all hope again the next week.

I knew I could tell them the crazy things that were happening in my head, and we could laugh about it or cry about it, whatever it may be. But, most importantly, we could plan how to tackle it.

And now? Well now, I’m fully recovered, and a huge piece of that is down to the conversations that I had with people that I’ll always be eternally grateful to.

They still try and have these conversations with me sometimes by asking “and how have you been doing mentally recently?” and it always makes me smile knowing I can now have a laugh with them saying “I’m fine…well, that was a weird period aye?”

I may be able to laugh about it now, but that all started from a couple of tough, difficult, awkward conversations that I was forced to have. But I’ll always be grateful for that first conversation because there’s no doubt that it saved my life.

Great work is being done to have people talking more openly about mental health issues and to save lives, such as with the new Heads Together campaign set up by the royal family. But still, we need to have these conversations on a bigger scale.

This isn’t such a commonly known fact, but suicide is the UK’s single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. These conversations are now more important than ever. Put Trump's hair and the Kardashians to one side for a minute and have a conversation that really matters.

If you’re struggling, man or woman, and don’t know where to turn, just open up to someone. Friends, family, me, a therapist, or online forums such as Elefriends.

If you know someone who may be struggling or someone that has opened up to you, be understanding and be kind. Research around to find out what might be happening and know that they aren’t currently seeing the world as you do, so choose your words carefully. But with your help, they’ll be able to pull through, and that’ll be one of the greatest things you’ll ever do in your life.

Why have that conversation? Because conversations change lives. Wherever you are, whatever the time, have that conversation that could save someone’s life.

George Bell blogs for The Huffington Post and his own personal site on mental health issues. You can reach him at hello@georgebell.co.

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George Bell - One conversation can save a life

I thought it was brilliant so I wrote to him: Hello hello, I just read your piece on the Heads Together website and thought it was ace. Reminds me a lot of how I felt when I was 20 suffering from Bipolar. I was lucky enough, in a bizarre way, to have a Mum who understood exactly what I was going through as she had been through it, after having me. But the conversations with friends, girlfriends weren’t a walk in the park. I’m glad you’re better and are putting such brilliantly put sentiment, humour and facts out there. If you can’t laugh about some of the bizarre things that happen whilst having a mental illness it will all become a bit unbearable! I started a little video blog / website (frasethatsways.com) at the end of last year, after a bout of depression, as I just couldn’t keep my ‘secret’ a secret any longer and it went down amazingly well and was a lovely form of therapy. Keep up your good work.

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