It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this coming week (14-20 May)
So it’s worth blowing the trumpet for mental health! There’s still a lot of stigma associated with mental health issues. Imagine two people meeting in the street. One asks, “How’s your health?” The reply comes back, “Oh, I had a bad back last week, but I feel OK now.” But if instead it was, “Hmm, I’m not good – I’m feeling really depressed right now”, you probably wouldn’t see the other person for dust!
For many of us, talking about physical health isn’t too difficult – we understand the issues and can give a reasonably confident response. But mental health conversations – well, that’s different. It’s not that we’re uncaring; we just don’t know what it’s all about, and we’re not really sure whether the person is quite “safe”. Are they going to do something odd, or even dangerous? And what am I supposed to do now anyway?
But people struggling with mental health problems are just that – people! And the last thing they need is for others to step back from them. 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health issue this year, so we’re talking about a lot of “us”!
So what can we do?
Here are some suggestions…
- Accept people’s feelings: they are real, for them, and having someone to listen to them is of great help
- Listen: most of us spend much more time telling people our thoughts and ideas than listening to theirs. And when we do listen, we often just come up with “good advice”
- So, rather than trying to fix their problem, feedback their feelings. Give them a running commentary emotionally, rather like a commentator: “you’re feeling sad; I can see that you’re overwhelmed; you feel like the world is falling apart”. This might seem contrived, but it shows that you are seeking to walk with them, not stand apart from them
- Establish a support network: if ever they needed other people to be there for them, it’s now. This isn’t complicated or specialists’ work – it’s just being with and near them.
Being there for others – that’s a challenge in our fast paced culture. But it may be the very thing that millions of us need this week.
Read more in my book, “Lasting Happiness”