Given that I talk about mental health a lot in this blog, I am very much in favour of this day. In fact, WMHD helped me with my mental health issues in a way that I never thought a “world day” would.
Last year, I was working in-house for SpunOut.ie – a website that is an amazing resource for youth and those working with them. I pitched an idea to the editorial team, and they accepted it, and that article set me on my way to discussing mental health openly, with friends, family and in my blog.
I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I have anxiety, I have depression.
I liked to pretend I was fine. That I was coping, living and that I hadn’t got anything wrong with me. I liked pretending that I was ‘over’ my PTSD, that the trauma was so long ago that it didn’t affect me anymore. It does.
On World Mental Health Day 2016, I published an opinion piece on SpunOut.ie in which I accepted my PTSD and put my name to it. The editorial team asked me multiple times if I was sure I didn’t want to anonymise it. I didn’t. Not putting a name to it, for me, meant not talking about it.
I wanted to destigmatise the conversation. I think I succeeded. When I published that article, I openly said, ‘I’m not always okay’. A lot of people in my life were shocked; they didn’t equate PTSD with me. But that’s the thing: you can’t see mental health problems.
For people living with mental health difficulties, you often can’t tell they are living with these issues. They don’t look ill, they go to work, they go out, they do all the things they’re supposed to do. But inside they are struggling.
When I’m really anxious, I play with my hands and my stomach gets into knots. I can’t sleep because I’m thinking of all the worst case scenarios, but I still go into work. If I have a flashback, you probably won’t notice. If I’m really low, you won’t see anything different about me.
If someone has a cold, you can tell. You can say, “I hope you’re better soon”. If someone is physically injured or ill, you’ll notice and say the same. There is physical, visual proof of their current difficulty. If someone is living with anxiety, depression, PTSD or any other mental health issue, chances are – you won’t know, unless they tell you. This why I talk about it.
There are no external physical signs of my mental health issues, unless you know me very well and can tell by tiny changes in my body language. This is why I like World Mental Health Day – it opens up and encourage discussion. It highlights that mental health issues are unseen. They are hidden, and they are often silent.
What I want this day to do is show that it’s okay to not be okay. That living with anxiety, depression, PTSD or anything else is okay. You are not defined by the problems you face, they are just a part of your life. Talking openly can be hugely therapeutic, and talking about what you live with, and how you live like that could encourage others to open up, too.
It wasn’t easy for me to admit these things. I felt like I was admitting defeat or making myself vulnerable. I felt like a failure when I said them out loud, or that people would ostracise me for having problems.
By discussing my mental health with others, it has allowed others to open up to me, too. It has enabled conversations to take place that previously would not have taken place. That’s more than I could have asked for.
We cannot destigmatise something unless we speak about it, and I honestly think that speaking openly about my mental health has been one of the more important things I’ve done in my progress.
This week, open up the door of discussion.