March 25, 2015

What I want is to live in a world where people can feel comfortable to sit at work and say things along the lines of, "I'm feeling really anxious today" to their close colleagues (with whom they are comfortable sharing family, relationship and who knows what else) - and no-one will think they're weird; for feeling that way nor for sharing the information. Lauren's blog

I think it should be socially acceptable for anyone, when asked by a friend or close acquaintance "how are you?" to answer not just with either "I'm fine thanks" or "well I've got a bit of a cold/the kids have got me worn out/I've got loads on at work"; but also with "I'm feeling quite down" or maybe even "actually I'm worrying a lot about washing my hands lately, I wonder what that's about."

OK, that last one sounds like a bit of a weird thing to come out with, right?

But why?

Every person will be affected by their own or a loved one's mental illness in their lifetime

It seems obvious to me that this kind of natural, everyday conversation is the only thing that can help us to truly tackle the stigma that still haunts this part of us as individuals and as a society. Every single person will be affected by either their own or a loved one's mental illness in their lifetime. Of course they will. The mind is such a complex element of us. How can we expect it to function perfectly all of the time? Isn't that like expecting to get through your whole life never suffering from any 'physical' ailment - not a single cold, sickness bug or broken bone? So why are teenagers who show signs of suffering from OCD, eating disorders, depression or anxiety, still the 'weird kids'?

If truly open conversation about these issues could become the norm; it would allow the next generation to grow up hearing all the time that they aren't the only ones ever to feel this way or that. Just as importantly, they'd also be learning from day one that if they recognise signs of mental health problems in their friends or classmates (a situation with which they will undoubtedly be faced at some point), that child or teenager (or colleague at work) does not have to immediately become somebody to stay away from.

It's freeing to say things out loud

Such an incredibly large amount of my own experiences with mental illness - with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and eating disorders - has been about loneliness, about hating the way that I felt because I was convinced I was the only one who had ever felt that way. For me it has been a vicious cycle of feeling rejected and the resulting low self-esteem in my early teenage years; through searching for ways to control the world around me by subjecting myself to regimes of cleanliness; then the resulting 'realisation' that I was in fact a freak and that the rejection I felt from others was justified - re-enter the ever-decreasing self-esteem.

I have some experience with some types of mental illness and I know intimately my own story of mental health. But I'm well aware that there is 1000% more that I know nothing about and that every type of mental illness and every person who lives with it is completely different. So I'm not saying that opening up and talking is easy. But I believe that it should be easier, and that it could become a lot easier, if it was more of a 'done thing'. What I am saying is that in my own experience - which is all that I am able to pass comment on - opening up and talking about the way I'm feeling and the things I'm thinking has been the only thing that has ever made any real difference. That's partly because it's freeing to say things out loud and it can be helpful to hear another person's perspective, and because yes, things often do sound a lot different when you get them out of your head and say them out loud. A lot of what helped me to deal with my hand-washing habit was that when I did finally begin to talk - often just telling a family member why I was feeling the need to wash my hands at that particular time - 9 times out of 10 it made a lot less sense to me when I heard it spoken out loud; so slowly I managed to differentiate again between when it was necessary and when it wasn't.

But mostly talking has helped because, at every turn, every time I have finally opened up about something that I made me feel like an irreparable freak - whether it be to a family member, a friend or a cognitive behavioural therapist - I have learned almost instantly that I am not the only person to have ever felt that way.

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