Reducing stigma comes from the frontline, from education and most of all from being brave enough to admit when you’re not feeling well. In short, it’s about talking. But a lot of people still don’t feel able to talk about their mental health, so it’s up to all of us to break the silence and start those conversations.
Back in 2013 when I was recovering from a breakdown, I finally stopped pretending to be ok. I let people see the Claire who was struggling, who wasn’t happy all the time and who needed to fall apart before I could rebuild myself. I admitted that I had a mental health condition.
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about what people might think. “Lunatic,” “drama queen” and “self-pitying” were among the milder labels that I imagined. But then I thought, acceptance comes from understanding and understanding comes from asking questions. For example, if you didn’t understand how a car worked, why the sky is blue, or what nose bleed is, then you’d ask.
Perhaps I could use a similar approach when explaining my illness. So, I encouraged people to ask questions. What is anxiety? How does it make me feel? Why was I crying so much?
I sat my closest family and friends down and explained, “it’s like a headache that I can’t seem to shift. I’m in pain constantly and I feel frightened because I don’t know how to make it go away. Much like a headache, you can’t see it, but it’s there.” The response was incredible. Finally, I could explain that I wasn’t being anti-social when I cancelled plans, or seemed aloof at dinner, it was my anxiety.
Part of the pressure that came with my condition, was the secrecy. It was like carrying a slab of concrete on my shoulders, one that I could never put down, there was never any respite and it crushed me day by day. The more honest I was and the more I spoke openly about my anxiety, the lighter the weight became, and I finally began to heal. You’d be surprised how much a quick natter and a cup of tea can help. It changed my life.
Time to Talk Day is a fantastic excuse to take ten minutes and ask someone how they’re feeling. Often we say “how are you?” But rarely do we listen to the answer, or give a genuine answer ourselves. If you know someone who is going through a hard time, then send them a text or card to let them know you care. Mental health is important and everybody has it.
So this is my plea, ask someone how they are on 2nd February and feel exactly how you want to. Let’s change the way we think and act about mental health, and make it a totally normal topic of conversation.
Claire is a mental health blogger and author of the blog & book We're All Mad Here.