A Mind Game
1st May 2018
By Sara Niven | Beauty Editor and Counsellor
Mental Health Awareness week falls this month (14th-20th May) and it’s an issue well worth raising awareness of, with one in four of us affected by mental illness in any one year.
Celebrities like Stephen Fry (who has been open about his bipolar diagnosis) and Adele (who has spoken candidly about postnatal depression) are among those helping lift the lid on the subject. As is Prince Harry who has given interviews about his personal struggles as part of The Heads Together campaign, which aims to end the stigma surrounding mental health in the UK.
That aside, there’s some way to go before it becomes as easy to talk about as a physical condition.
People can feel very vulnerable and unsure of reactions. If a job application requires you to state whether you have ever been treated for depression, stress or anxiety, would you worry that answering yes might count against you, however great your CV or relevant your experience? If you mention having a mental health condition to a prospective partner over dinner, will they lose interest and mentally swipe left in a way that wouldn’t be the case if you revealed you had diabetes for instance?
As the mental health charity Mind states on their website:
“Unfortunately, not everyone understands mental health problems and some people may have misconceptions about what certain diagnoses mean. It's important for anyone with a mental health issue to know that they aren't alone. Sharing their story with others can help improve understanding and change attitudes.”
I consider myself privileged to hear anyone talk (openly or confidentially) about mental health on a personal level because I know first-hand it isn’t always easy.
I experienced work related stress and anxiety in one job that resulted in such bad IBS I thought I had a stomach ulcer. I felt I had to keep it under wraps to avoid the risk of not being seen as competent. Yet a few small tweaks at work and an empathic employer would have made all the difference. Ironically, many years later I found out several colleagues had been in the same boat. And we had all remained silent. I like to think that if a few of us had felt able to confide in each other, we could have provided a united front in asking for support rather than struggling on, to the detriment of our mental and physical health.
Stress is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and while there is far more to mental health than that, it seems a good place to start. Small day to day stresses are part of normal life but chronic stress over prolonged periods of time can lead to or exacerbate many other conditions including depression.
Even high fliers, used to juggling important deadlines and responsibilities may reach the point where getting up, getting washed and getting a pint of milk can feel like scaling Everest.
If you haven’t ever been in this situation it is easy to assume it is simply a case of taking time off and “getting a grip.” Despite my own experience (and prior to counselling training), I too have been guilty of this attitude, of briskly pulling curtains open and grabbing the duvet off the tortured soul seeking refuge underneath it, in the mistaken belief I was helping. Yet nobody would dream of telling someone with a broken leg to go for a run.
At an event I attended at SenSpa recently, Spa Director Lina Lotto revealed she had experienced a build-up of severe stress in her 20’s, ignoring the early warning signs, until her physical as well as emotional health became seriously affected. As she described how helpful she found meditation on her journey back to health, I admit I was initially surprised. Lina radiates such a natural air of serenity and calm it is easy to imagine she has sailed through life that way. Finding out that she hasn’t, didn’t make me think less of her; quite the opposite; I could relate completely and was struck by her courage in speaking openly about it.
Nobody is immune to mental health issues, be that through a genetic disposition or something that develops as the result of specific situations and circumstances. It is only through talking honestly about mental health, without fear of stigma or judgement that we are in the best place to take care of our own and support and understand others.
For more information on mental health issues and details of where to find support visit www.mind.org.uk.
Click here to view one of Lina's easy step-by-step meditations.
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