That’s the question being asked across the UK by the Mental Health Foundation as part of the nation’s annual mental health awareness week.
For seven full days, organisations and individuals all over the country will be campaigning and raising awareness of mental health issues that affect so many people’s lives. This year, the MHF are switching their focus. Rather than asking why so many people are living with mental health problems, they are trying to uncover why so few people are able to mentally thrive in our society.
It’s a good question, and its importance stretches beyond British borders. Wherever we are in the world, we all seek to benefit from an increased awareness and acceptance of mental health issues.
Whether you’re caring for a friend or relative, or suffering yourself, mental health issues affect everyone. In fact, mental illness is something that has been a part of my life for many years. I don’t often talk about it, but six years ago I couldn’t imagine living past the age of 25 – and I didn’t want to. I had been hospitalised multiple times since the age of 18, and a destructive cocktail of alcohol and substance abuse, self harm and disordered eating was taking its toll. Back then, the thought of leaving home, holding down a job and getting a degree was laughable. At some points I didn’t want to live to see the end of the week.
Flash forward to now, and I have that degree. I’ve left home, and travelled two continents, and lived abroad, and have done well at stable jobs. My mental health still isn’t perfect – and it probably never will be – but things are looking a heck of a lot brighter than they did when I was 22. I have things that keep me going now. I have hope.
No two people’s experiences are the same, of course, and one-size-fits-all cures simply don’t exist. Sadly, there are no quick fixes when it comes to mental health, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There is a way out. You can get better – I promise. Here are my six top tips for beating depression, anxiety, and the blues.
Never underestimate how important it is to have someone you completely trust to confide in. Whether that’s your dad, your significant other, your best friend or a therapist, having someone by your side who will unflinchingly accept you on your best and worst days is one of the most important tools of recovery. Obviously this step is far from a cakewalk for many people – the fear of sounding stupid, or worse, annoying someone we care about is often enough to keep us from confiding. Remember that, despite what your illness is telling you, these people love you and want to help. Take a deep breath and reach out.
OK, I hate those people who prescribe “a good walk” as a snap cure for depression as much as the next person, but SERIOUSLY. Exercise is such a crucial building block of strong mental health, and it’s often overlooked. You don’t have to pound it out at the gym if that’s not your thing (but all power to you if it is). Though it might seem close to impossible to drag yourself up and out (trust me, I know that feeling), remind yourself that a long, quiet walk through a woodland or park has the power to turn a piss-poor day into a bearable one.
- Write it out
When those bastard thought cycles are eating you up and stopping you from getting any sleep, sit up, grab a pen, pencil or crayon, and write that shit out. All of it. Write it messily and ineloquently as a stream of consciousness. Write it as it comes to you, and write until you have nothing more left to say. Then set fire to the paper, watch it burn, and stamp and spit on the ashes until you have exorcised those shitdemons from hell. Scream blue murder if it helps. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works for me.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek professional help, but more importantly, find the kind of therapy that works for you. Some people find that psycho-analytical treatment works wonders for them (although I personally can’t stand it). Others find that CBT, DBT, or a combination of therapy and medication is effective in lifting them out of that hole. Right now, I’m finding hypnotherapy to be an effective form of mental health management that I can literally do in my sleep – result. There are so many forms of therapy out there, and there will be one that’s right for you.
Channel your rage, your sadness, your fear into something creative. Don’t think too much about what you’re doing – just try and get words on a page, or splatter paint onto a canvas. The end result is secondary to the process; creating something reminds you that you are more than just your mental illness.
This is a tip that many psychologists and counsellors have recommended to me, and I always feel so much better when I do it. Every night before bed, grab a pen and notepad and try and brainstorm at least five things you felt grateful for throughout the day. These could be big things, such as meeting an old friend for coffee, or they could be as small as enjoying the scent of a new fabric softener. The point is to get your brain focussed on the real, positive things that have happened during your day before bed, which in turn will help you to sleep better and feel brighter the next day. It isn’t always easy to find even one thing to be happy about when your illness really has its claws dug in, but this is when it’s more important than ever to seek out the positive, however insignificant it may seem. In time, gratitude list-making can have a surprisingly huge impact on your day to day life.
To find out more about mental health awareness week, visit the Mental Health Foundation’s homepage and check out #mentalhealthawarenessweek