I don’t know about any of you, but I find that I can talk to almost anyone I know about almost anything I have going on in my personal life. There are very few things that I keep to my inner circle and even fewer things that I keep to myself. My mental health problem was definitely a subject that was exclusive to me and my doctor for over a decade. I didn’t let anyone in and I was determined to get through it myself and that I didn’t need help from anyone.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I did need help.
It’s a very difficult thing to do and not one that you should embark on until you’re ready. Only you will know when you feel like you can tell someone what’s happening and no one should make you feel otherwise. I first approached my doctor in my late teens but didn’t tell my first friend until I was 27. I’d had several rounds of treatment for depression and anxiety by then but it was still a scary thing to talk about and one I still wasn’t sure I was ready for.
It’s up to you if you want to talk to your friends, family, significant other or colleagues before approaching a doctor, counsellor or other medical professional. I chose to speak to a doctor before anyone else because I wanted to handle it alone and then be able to say to people “I used to have anxiety and depression but look at me, I didn’t need any of you to help me”. I’ve always been an independent person and always want to prove I can handle life alone but I wish someone would have sat me down sooner and told me how much easier it would be to cope with everything if I just shared what was happening instead of battling it alone. There are many different groups of people you can talk to so I’ll share my experience of what helped me when I started telling people.
If you work full-time then you’ll be spending a lot of time with these people so it can be a good place to start, plus if it really all goes wrong you can get rid of them and find a new job (that’s mainly a joke but is a possibility). It’s also great because once they know what’s going on you can work together to try and make allowances and changes at work that can help you and your mental health. It can also have a positive effect on other people too as some others may have a degree of depression or anxiety and they may find they can talk more about it if you open the conversation with everyone. I was signed off work for a week when it all got too much for me at work. While my colleagues had worked out that something was wrong they had no idea how bad it was. When I phoned my boss to tell her what was happening I felt full of dread. Beside my doctor, I had never said those words aloud to anyone: I have anxiety and depression. It was absolutely terrifying and I can still feel those sickness pangs as I fought through my anxiety to talk to her. She was very understanding, said it was good to have a week to focus on myself and what I needed and once I was back we’d have a chat about what can be done at work to help. My colleagues were equally supportive. I worked in a small team and we had a coffee and a chat about what I needed and if there was anything that specifically needed to change. At the time we’d all slipped into a bad habit of ranting and venting about issues at work which was a very cyclic conversation and wasn’t particularly productive! We decided that while we all need to vent, these conversations needed to stop if we weren’t coming up with solutions. Everyone felt a bit lighter and happier after we changed our mindsets so that was one solution that worked well for everyone. It made work a lot easier knowing that my colleagues were looking out for me and would understand if some tasks were beyond my reach sometimes and where I might struggle.
Friends and family
My advice here is to choose just one or two to start with so you can see how you feel about people knowing. Face-to-face can be a bit daunting sometimes and I always feel a little awkward starting a conversation with “I need to tell you something” or turning the conversation randomly to myself to talk about mental health, and that’s very common and not an issue at all! Don’t feel like you’re wimping out or being rude by having these conversations by phone, text or online. Having the conversation is a huge step (really, really huge!) so do not feel bad about it, you’re doing an amazing thing by reaching out and opening the conversation about your struggles with mental health. It’s up to you how you talk to people so make sure you’re comfortable with how you’re doing it, not anyone else. Pick a time when you’re not pushed for time and are in a mood that you feel you can discuss things without becoming overwhelmed. Once you’ve done it, treat yourself! You’ve just done an incredibly strong and brave thing and you deserve to reward yourself.
This one can be especially hard, but know that if you’re spending lots of time together they probably know something’s wrong! This one is probably a nice one in that they may start the conversation. They may tell you that they’ve noticed you’re not yourself and want to know if anything’s going on. I find it a lot easier to reply to someone’s question than starting the conversation from scratch. If they don’t, then you can do the same approach as I’ve mentioned above with your friends and family. Or you could do what I did. Just sit on the floor with the cat, crying, so they walk through the door and have no option other than to ask what’s wrong! (I take it back, that’s not the best way to do it! But it did open the conversation so it wasn’t the worst way…)
Before I finish this, I have a few more things to note. Don’t expect everyone to know how to react and how to help. This doesn’t mean that you need to figure it all out and give them a leaflet of how to help you, but just be mindful that they may ask you what they need to do and it’s okay to tell them that you don’t know yet. Don’t be upset if they don’t react how you expected them to. Some people may be shocked, some may have helped hundreds of people through it, some people may freak out and have no idea what it means.
Once you’ve told someone there’s no shame in asking them to tell others if you want others to know but don’t want to start 20 different conversations. I asked my mum to tell my siblings and my boss to tell my colleagues. I felt happier that everyone knew and even happier that I didn’t have to have awkward conversation after awkward conversation. I told my mum and boss that I was happy for them to tell people and happy for people to know they can talk to me about it; it’s not a secret. And that’s the biggest thing I’d like you to take away. It is not a shameful secret to bear. If you’re not ready to talk then that is absolutely okay but if you want to talk then know that it is not something you should be ashamed about discussing. There is still some stigma surrounding mental health that may never fully go away but it’s so much more accepted and much easier to discuss openly. People have no issue discussing broken bones or headaches so it should be the same way if you’re struggling with your mental health and that’s what I’m trying to help achieve here.
I hope this has been helpful and please reach out to someone if you need help. Vetlife and Samaritans have anonymous phone lines that you can reach out to if you need help but aren’t ready to talk to anyone you know just yet. I’m also happy to talk if you need an ear, just send me a message on Facebook. I hope you’re all okay.