Invisible & III

Having a healthy mind is just as important as having a healthy body. We all have good and bad days, but in the last decade the number of people affected by mental health issues has steadily risen and experts are now calling it a ‘slow-growing epidemic’. Mental health embodies so many things and cannot be pinpointed, but to put it simply it’s the level of psychological well-being of an individual. Being mentally healthy affects how we feel about ourselves, our ability to develop psychologically and emotionally, and our capacity to make and maintain relationships. When your mentally healthy you have the strength to overcome challenges and the everyday difficulties, whilst having the confidence and self-esteem to do so. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression (to name a few) are becoming more and more common, people are going through their own private hell and are in need of help.

We’ve reached a bit of a brick wall with mental health, the sheer amount of content we see daily can lead to words like “anxiety” and phrases such as “raising awareness” losing all meaning. This abundance of media coverage has meant that mental health has become a commodity for brands and marketing agencies looking for the next big issue to get behind, and this is where the throwaway content has emerged. The same stories have materialized across multiple platforms, with clickbait sites rolling out information that isn’t helping anyone. Mental health has become a buzzword. It’s now become routine for celebrities to be questioned about their mental health in interviews, and whilst it’s comforting to know that the people we look up to face every day struggles such as our own – is all of this really helping? If hearing about a celebrity’s anxiety or depression encourages someone to open up about their own similar feelings, then great. However, we’re now at a point of complete saturation. As consumers and creators of this content, we should be critical of how we’re talking about mental health and why we’re talking about mental health. Some good has come out of all of this publicity however, with the profile of mental health being raised social media and the internet is now overflowing with content aimed at helping those in need. This has been decades in the making, but it’s all of our responsibility to ensure that mental health doesn’t become just another media fad.

Whilst there’s been meaningful growth in raising the profile of mental health over the past few years, as it’s something you can’t physically see people tend think of it as not being as real as an observable condition. There’s still a huge stigma surrounding topics such as anxiety and depression, and because of this many suffer in secret. What does it feel like to be invisible and ill? The answer is completely alone. The lack of public discussion means that being open about mental health is crucial to breaking the stigma surrounding it, and can be vital in preventing it. In the past if mental health was spoken about, it was done so in hushed tones and blanketed in feelings of embarrassment and shame. Many people coping with a mental illness can be prevented from reaching out and getting the help they need because of the stigma, which is why it’s so important we have open stigma-free conversations which will benefit individuals and society as a whole. By talking about it we can give people hope, and let them know they are not alone.

If you’ve ever known someone close to you who has suffered with their mental health – be it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and so on – you’ll know how hard it is for them, but it can be hard for you too.

It take its toll. You may not know what to say or do, and because of the previous stigma none of us know what the exact protocol is. Truth is, there isn’t one. When people find out there’s something ‘wrong’, they start to treat those affected differently. This shouldn’t be the norm, and is a cycle we need to break. There are things we can do to help, in the hope of making a difference. One thing we can all do is listen to what they have to say without judgment, and choose words of comfort. Resist the temptation to give too much advice. You don’t have to talk about mental health directly to find out how someone’s doing, instead you could invite them out for a coffee or suggest going for a walk. Let them know you’re thinking of them, and more importantly let them know you’re there. There can be certain things which trigger a mental health issue, such as money worries or work stress. Watch out for these, and encourage those affected to take action before it gets worse. If you think someone you know might be experiencing symptoms of a mental health problem, support and encourage them to seek advice. Advise them to speak to their GP, and offer to go with them and be the shoulder to cry on should they need. One thing we mustn’t do is tell someone who’s feeling anxious or depressed to “get a grip” or “calm down”, they are most likely blaming themselves already and criticism will make them feel a whole lot worse. Try not to blame and be patient, as long as you show them your thinking about them they should come around eventually. Most importantly remind your loved one that whilst they feel awful now, it can get better. Empathy and a trusting support network is vital, it’s important to encourage an open attitude towards mental health so people can get the help they need. In the midst of everything that may be going on whilst you help those close to you who battle with their mental health, don’t forget to look after yourself too. Taking care of yourself will help you to take care of someone else.

If you personally suffer from any mental health issue whatever it may be, there are some basic self-care steps that can be taken. Don’t let the stigma prevent you from caring for yourself, and don’t ever second guess yourself when it comes to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Consider doing less and not overwhelming your day-to-day life, make a conscious effort to schedule in relaxation time so your body and mind has time to recharge and replenish. Take breaks and try not to work ridiculously long hours, working through tasks one at a time instead of trying to do it all at once. Get organized, and remember you don’t have to do everything. Keep a diary that focuses on gratitude and positivity to remind you of all the good in your life, or download one of the many mindful apps available on the App store. There’s no better time to take a vacation, or failing that get outside and soak up the sun. Being in nature can help calm feelings of anxiety, whether its spending time sitting on a park bench or taking a leisurely walk along the beach outdoor activities can help calm the body and mind. If you’re up for something more active, committing to regular exercise can help reduce the impact of mental health issues. More and more each day people are turning to social media to share their experiences and connect with others, Instagram in particular has become a community for many. Above all else, practicing self-care is most important when looking after yourself and trying to improve your well-being. And if you’re really not coping, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your GP. You are not alone, and there are those who go through the same struggles as you more often than you think.

Ultimately, we’re doing plenty of talking about mental health but seeing little action. The growing demand for mental health care reflects the stress on our society, with waiting lists in the UK and across the globe being months long. People are often sent across the country for a hospital bed, being separated from their loved ones and those who can really help and be there for them when they need it most. We need to refocus our energy and raise awareness on seeing the signs of mental health issues, and educate society on how to deal with those who suffer. Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, and you need to take care of your mental health just like you do the rest of you. Let’s keep the mental health conversation going, because your good health depends on it.

Words by J’Nae Phillips

Illustration by Ellie Stanton