On the weekend I gave a Yoga and Anxiety workshop and at one point I asked people if they experienced any stigma struggling with Anxiety. Almost everyone in the room nodded. And that makes me sad that we are still here, not supporting and accepting mental health disorders well enough.
That’s not good enough
These are high prevalence disorders, which means a LOT of people will struggle with some kind of Anxiety or Depression in their life (roughly 1/4) What are we doing wrong that people feel ashamed or silenced when they struggle with mental health? I am a veteran at both treating and suffering from mental health issues so here are a few ideas from the trenches!
How can we do it better (for you and for your loved ones)?
- Speak up. When you are part of conversations about mental health one of the most incredible gifts you can give the person brave enough to be sharing with you is “me too” We can reduce stigma by confiding in people so they know they are not alone. Shame cannot survive empathy (credit to Brene Brown for that gem)
- Don’t make assumptions. So someone is out of bed and doing OK on the outside. It doesn’t’ mean they aren’t struggling. As a clinician I know mental health comes in all shapes and sizes and the ability to function doesn’t effect the severity of your illness. Some people just can. That doesn’t make them less unwell.
- You don’t need to know how they feel to help. Sometimes all people need is a SMS or a cup of tea to make them feel like you care. You don’t need the perfect words (sometimes there are none) You know what people have told me over 15 years is the most powerful thing? The words “I love you” and “I am here for you if you need me”
- Sometimes it takes more than one try to recover. Sometimes it’s really hard to navigate the mental health system in Australia and find the help you need. Sometimes we struggle to find the right professional. It is possible to get well. Sometimes you do need to speak to more than one person. It does take energy you may not have, but recovery is possible.
- Feelings do pass. I don’t mean that to be trite. I have been down both the depression and the anxiety holes and they are not fun. But every mood does shift. Sometimes not much. But enough to keep on going. Sometimes just reminding yourself that it will get a little better can help us get through the night.
- Don’t make comments about peoples treatment choices. So maybe you recovered using herbs and astral travel. That’s great. But some people will need talking therapy and medication. There is nothing that needs to be said about taking medication to people taking medication. I have seen so many people come off medication too soon or not try it all because of comments from family and friends. Who may be well-meaning, but unless they are are a medical doctor, I don’t think it’s helpful. Ever.
So this week might be a good time to have conversations, ask people if they are OK and tell your friends and family what it’s like to be living with mental health concerns. We can’t see them all the time, but they are there and we need to be able to talk more openly to finally #breakthestigma