Time to Talk Day is a campaign which aims to encourage more people to open up about their mental health. This year, the focus is ‘the power of the small’, meaning that even a small conversation about mental health can make a BIG difference. I wanted to share how one small conversation about mental health had an enormous effect on my recovery.
When I first started taking medication for my depression, one of the main side effects I had was sickness*. One morning at university, I was in a long lecture and felt awful. I was tearful, sweating, my heart was pounding, my thoughts were racing and eventually I had to run to the bathroom because I felt so sick. I was really embarrassed, especially as I thought the lecturer would assume that I was a typical hungover student! At the end of the session, I went back to collect my things and to apologise to the lecturer for running out. I explained that my sickness was a side-effect of my anti-depressants and asked if I could have the lecture slides to catch up. These days I talk about my mental health openly all the time, but at that point I had only told my Mum and a few friends that I had depression and anxiety. I still didn’t understand it myself and felt very ashamed of my diagnosis. I was especially nervous to tell anyone in authority like lecturers or my employers at work as I didn’t want them to think that I was going to be a ‘problem’ for them. I immediately wished that I hadn’t said anything or had said I had a stomach bug. I was expecting him to sigh, avoid my eyes and mumble something about feeling better soon. Instead, he looked at me kindly and said:
‘I’m so sorry to hear that, dealing with depression must be so difficult – is there anything that I can do to help? I can send you lecture recordings so please don’t push yourself to come to class if you’re not up to it, you’ve got to remember that there’s nothing more important than your health.’
I was utterly blown away by his kindness. It might sound like a small and insignificant interaction, but the way he spoke to me was so important. The frank way he said the word ‘depression’ without mumbling or flinching wasn’t something I had ever heard before, let alone from someone in authority.
Since then, there have been countless conversations, comments and incredible people who have helped me enormously, but that small conversation in that lecture theatre will stay with me forever. It helped me to let go of some of the shame I had been carrying and gave me the courage to tell more people when I was struggling at university or work.
So, if somebody starts to talk to you about their mental health, appreciate the courage it took to do that! Listen to them, don’t look shocked and respond just like you would if they told you about a physical ailment. Remember, you DON’T have to fix somebody to help them. You don’t have to know all the answers or be a trained counsellor. The only thing you have to do to help someone is to listen and be kind to them.
The more conversations we have about mental health with our friends, families and colleagues, the more natural it will feel for mental health to be spoken about openly. Mental health awareness has come a long way since I was diagnosed 5 years ago, but so much stigma still exists around the topic which makes living with a mental health condition so much harder. The good news is that we all have the power to make a dent in that stigma with three little words: ‘How are you?’. So, check in with somebody today and ask them how their mental health is doing in lockdown. You’ll definitely make their day, but you might just change their life!
*This doesn’t happen to everyone and was definitely worth the long-term benefits!