A decade ago, on World Mental Health Day, as I entered my early 20s, I was depressed. Looking back, I’m not sure how it all began. At the time, it felt like a gradual decline into a bottomless black pit of despair. Depression crept over me like a thief in the night, until I was completely submerged. It had taken so long to get to that point that I had forgotten what the world looked like outside of the darkness, and I didn’t have the inclination, the resolve or the energy to seek out my sunshine again.
Thankfully, today’s World Mental Health Day is taking place in a very different world to the one that I experienced back then. Millions of people around the world are struggling with their mental health on a daily basis (in fact, these days one in three sick notes are attributed to mental health issues), but the reality of this struggle is better understood and accepted by employers and society alike. Being depressed is no longer taboo in the way it used to be.
We have a lot of people and organisations to thank for this elevation in thinking. In the UK, high profile campaigns such as the Heads Together Campaign launched by the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, are bringing these hard-hitting issues into the spotlight.
Nevertheless, despite the growing help and support available, the scale of the problem continues to rise. One in four of us are affected by mental health issues at any point in time. One in five adults have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. The number of anti-depressant prescriptions have doubled in a decade. These statistics are of course affected by more people coming forwards to seek help which is heartening to see, but the scale of this escalation is equal to more than that. Depression is now pandemic and it can no longer be ignored.
For anyone reading this who is suffering today, here are my top tips for breaking out of the darkness and finding your sunshine again.
I know it’s cliché, but a problem shared really is a problem halved. Find a trusted friend or family member to talk to about how you’re feeling. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to someone you know, speak to a confidential advisor (for those of you in Qatar, there is some useful information here, and those in the UK, head here).
Men, did you know that you are much worse than us girls at opening up about your feelings? This can lead to longer-term mental health issues as you’re less accepting of your illness and less likely to access the help you need. Luckily, there are lots of organisations out there to help, such as Blokes United, which uses a different kind of therapy in the form of football to help you to retrain your mindset. If you want to access services like this, then Google is your best friend.
Failing face to face or group therapy, a simple private message to someone can go a long way. Just a few words to reach out and admit that things aren’t rosy can really help you to feel less isolated and lead to you getting the support you need.
Did you know that if you are in the UK and feeling depressed or suicidal, you can text 741741 to speak to a crisis worker 24 hours a day?
Sometimes writing your feelings down in a journal or making a list can help you to clarify your thoughts and give you a welcome release. A ritual burning of a piece of paper containing all of your negative thoughts can be surprisingly therapeutic, especially if you follow it up by writing a list of all of the positive things that you have in your life or the positive steps that you want to take next.
I say ‘practice’ because this one takes some mastering. Try to live in the moment and open your eyes and mind to what’s taking place right then and there, all around you. Pay attention to all of your senses. Take time to notice how certain situations make you feel. Hold onto those positive emotions you feel. What created them? What are you grateful for? Take some time to yourself every day to reflect.
When you’re consumed by a bubble of self-hatred or anxiousness, the best way to break free of it is to become absorbed in helping others. People who assign this kind of purpose to their lives have lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Prioritise activities which add value to others lives. Volunteer for a cause. Help someone in need. Remind yourself that you are not the only one in the world who is experiencing difficulties today.
In our interconnected world driven by the internet, it is all too easy to negatively compare our lives to the gilded versions that others portray on social media. Don’t give into your FOMO; instead unplug for a while, get outside and live as much as you can in the ‘real world’ until you’re able to see these posts for what they really are – an augmented reality which is not a genuine portrayal of real life.
Indulge in Self-Care
Every day. Until you don’t view it as an indulgence but a vital part of your journey to happiness and self-fulfillment. Parents and fulltime carers, this means handing your dependents over to someone else every now and again, leaving you free of responsibility for a while.
In our hectic and demanding lives, it is the little acts of self-care which we drop first: doing exercise, having a lunch break, reading a book, taking a bath, spending time with nature…but these things are the very things which drive our happiness and give us the strength we need to keep going. Don’t neglect them, because in doing so, you’re neglecting yourself.
Accept and Move On
This is the hardest step of all, but in my opinion, the most important. Accepting that sometimes things go wrong in life and that they are out of your control is an incredibly important skill to master. Think back to your last disappointment – did you ruminate on it and beat yourself up about what you could have done differently to affect the outcome, or did you accept it as a factor of life and treat yourself with kindness and respect? Try to learn how to change your focus away from what’s gone wrong, towards all of the things that are going right.
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back, because you are living your life in the only way you know how, and you are doing a damn good job of it.
I know it’s hard. Like I said, I’ve been there. And in the decade that’s passed, I’ve had many more down days besides. In fact, I’m going through a bit of a low period again right now, following a series of set-backs in my personal life.
The difference is that this time I’m not letting it eat away at me. I’m talking, I’m acting, I’m putting myself out there. But most importantly of all, I’m being kind to myself. After all, it’s the least I deserve.
How are you being kind to yourself today, on World Mental Health Day?
If you any of you ever feel the need to talk to someone impartial, please don’t hesitate to message me. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I can promise that I will be there to listen.