It’s World Mental Health Day: the day when social media gets lit up with messages of hope and support and tolerance and acceptance and self-compassion. Even the London Underground chimes in with messages of support and encouragement. And it’s great that we have this day when suddenly mental health is at the top of the agenda and finally visible.
But it’s one day. Tomorrow we’ll all go back to tip-toeing around this often uncomfortable, scary, incomprehensible subject. We’ll go back to thinking that everything is fine, we just need to pull it together, get a grip. Of course, the cumulative effect of these days annually and all the messages across social media will have an effect: I am not saying we shouldn’t have days like today. Anything to raise awareness is important.
But what is really needed is a change in the way that we think and talk about mental health as individuals and as a society. It goes right down to how we interact with each other on a basic level. How often do we ask each other if we’re ok, how we’re feeling etc? Everyday. As soon as anyone answers I’m feeling a little rough or that they have a cold or a headache, we give them a hug or words of sympathy, and we often offer remedies like painkillers or cough sweets or whatever we happen to be able to offer. We want to help. Because we feel like we can.
But how often do we REALLY ask each other if we’re ok, or how we are FEELING?
‘How do you feel in your mind?’ ‘How do you feel about life at the moment?’ The same question, ‘are you ok?’, covers that, but we too easily focus on physical health when the real question should go deeper. And what if someone does answer ‘are you ok?’ with ‘actually, no, I feel like shit: I’m depressed, I’m constantly anxious and I just want to give up and cry’. ‘Woah – calm down there buddy, hold your horses. I was only asking if you were ok!’ Yes, we might offer a hug, a few words of encouragement. But what about help and solutions: we all know how to give someone a painkiller or a plaster or a glass of water if they’re feeling hot and sweaty. But what do you give someone who answers like that?
An ear. Well, not literally. But the most important thing in that moment is to give that person time and attention: to listen can be just as effective as an ibuprofen can be for a hangover. And it’s not that hard. It doesn’t have to take that much time. But it might be exactly what that person needs that day.
And you know what, it might be just what you need that day too. How often do you ask YOURSELF ‘are you ok?’ You deserve to ask yourself that question. And you might actually be surprised by the answer you get. We are so caught up in our lives, rushing to work or school, rushing through our inboxes and social media feeds, that we often forget to take a moment to see if we are actually ok. Is what you are feeling now a good feeling? If not, why is that? What’s making you feel like you are? It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to ask for help.
We can make everyday world mental health day: just by asking people how they REALLY are. It’s time to treat mental health the same as physical health. We just need to look after ourselves and each other. We shouldn’t have to feel awkward about talking about our feelings and emotions. It is not a sign of weakness to struggle with your mental health: it’s something pretty much everyone will experience at some point or another in their life.
So tomorrow, let’s all ask each other if we’re ok, and answer with the truth, the whole truth – because that’s ok. That’s what a society which values mental health does. Let’s be that society.
So how are you? I hope you’re ok