Mental health is something that has been in the spotlight recently, and with good reason. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in men aged 20-49 in the UK,1and there are similarly depressing statistics relating to the United States, and other parts of the world.2 In the last few years, there have been a number of campaigns talking about mental health and tackling the stigma surrounding depression, such as the “It’s OK” campaign, which focused on young people.3
Starting the Conversation
One of the issues that people face when it comes to mental health is that there is the perception that talking about your issues somehow means “admitting that you are broken”, and that it’s a sign of weakness in some way. Many people are reluctant to share their issues because of this perceived stigma, even though that stigma is not really true. Think for a moment – if you had a friend come to you and say that they were having a hard time, would you judge them harshly or would you offer them support? If you’re the one having a hard time, don’t you think that your friends would do the same thing for you?
It can sometimes be difficult to tell what is going on when you have a friend who is suffering from depression or having some mental health difficulties. Depending on whether the issue is stress, burnout, depression or grief, the symptoms and signs can vary massively. Some people respond to issues by simply isolating themselves. Some turn to alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism. In some cases, people push their friends away, being snappy and irritable or saying harsh things because they don’t know what else to do. They may feel as though they are not worth helping and that nobody really cares about them, so they drive their friends away to reinforce that reality. Alternatively, they may feel that they care deeply for their friends and don’t want their friends to see them hurting, so they isolate themselves for that reason.
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It can take a long time to recover from stress or depression, and while someone is struggling with it, they may believe that it will never end. This is another difficult thing to deal with, and if you care for someone who is going through that, then you will want to help them as much as you can. However, you should understand that recovery is a long road and that there will be many ups and downs.
How to Tell Your Loved Ones You Are There for Them
Often, people who are depressed or struggling with other mental health issues don’t want to talk about it. Indeed, they may feel like a lot of situations in day to day life are simply too much for them. It’s important that they understand that they are not a burden, they don’t have to do anything that they don’t want to, and that you care about them.4
The social convention in many parts of the world is to say “How are you”, which will always be met with a “Good, thanks, and you?”, and an inevitable “Yeah, I’m good…” and a change of subject. Making the leap from that to talking clearly is a difficult thing, but if you put the focus on mental health, then you can get people to open up. One option is to start by asking, then ask again when you’re brushed off. If, after making it clear that you are really asking because you care, rather than asking to be polite, you are still brushed off, then the next step is to just say “OK, but I’m here if you ever do want to talk”. Simply ask, listen, and support your friends and loved ones.5
The Mental Health Conversation Should Not Be a Fad
Over the years, there have been a lot of public campaigns relating to health. Whether that’s sexual health, drug use, stranger danger, the importance of exercise, the value of drinking milk, or cutting down on sugar consumption, governments and health-care bodies love to pick pet subjects and promote them for a while. Typically, the campaigns will fade away after a while, although some, such as the dairy industry’s ‘Got Milk’ campaign do survive for decades.6
It’s fair to say that campaigns about things like stopping smoking can be retired once they reach critical mass. Smoking is expensive now, and a combination of taxation and advertising bans has helped to stop a lot of young people taking up the habit; in that way, the campaign has to an extent, rendered itself obsolete. Mental health is not a man-made concern, though. It is something that every person deals with, whether that is from career-related stress, bereavement, loneliness, or something else entirely.
Research shows that while women are more likely to admit to feeling lonely, men are more likely to suffer from loneliness.7 That trend is one of the things that need to be focused on when it comes to helping people with mental health issues. For generations, boys and girls have been socialized in different ways, and told different things about what is and are not acceptable. It will take generations to change that perception, so there needs to be continued focus on mental health and continued research into the best ways to support people who are struggling. Both genders struggle with mental health, although they each tend to have issues manifest themselves in different ways.8
By keeping the spotlight on mental health and regularly talking about how common issues are, how to support people who have them, and how it is possible to recover, we will take away the stigma. If people who have mental health difficulties, or who have recovered from them, are able and willing to talk about what they went through, then that will help others who are in the same position to understand that what they are going through is normal. Often, it’s little things like that knowledge that can help people to keep going when they are having a bad day.
Self Care to Boost Mental Health
It’s important that people who are really struggling with depression, stress, anxiety or other issues seek professional help. Someone who is ‘having a bad day’ or feeling burned out, can often get through that hump by taking a break, relaxing, and practicing self-care. Those who have a chemical imbalance that is making them feel depressed, and those who have been through a trauma and are struggling to cope with it, need help from an expert and there is no shame in that.
There is a clear position for self-care in terms of helping people who are struggling with mental health issues, though.9 Indeed, some patients feel that a lot of interventions are disempowering, and they would rather use self-care options that allow them to feel in control.10
Self-care can come in many forms. Some people find that exercise helps them to combat depression or anxiety because it helps to release endorphins, which can help to regulate their mood.11 If that exercise also includes some social activity in the form of a team sport, then that can help to combat loneliness too.
For others, self-care could come in the form of relaxation. Having a massage treatment serves the double role of providing valuable human contact, while also offering a form of relaxation that can reduce stress. Of course, spa visits are expensive, so that’s not an option for everyone. One thing that people can do at home is to take some time out to relax and meditate, practice mindfulness, or simply lie down in a dark room and enjoy some aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy and Mood Regulation
There is a lot of evidence to show that aromatherapy can help to combat depression, whether the exposure to essential oils is a part of a massage,11or used in a diffuser. Some hospices actually use essential oils to help to reduce anxiety and to improve a patient’s sense of wellbeing and have found that it is effective even in patients that are in a lot of pain.12 One study looked at the use of aromatherapy as a treatment to regulate the moods of women who were at risk of developing postpartum depression and found that a blend of oils including rose otto and Lavandula was useful for improving the mood of those women.13
Lavender is one essential oil that is often used to help combat anxiety. Patchouli is another popular essential oil that reputedly has calming benefits, although most evidence for that particular oil is anecdotal. There are studies that show how clary sage, lavender, and chamomile can help to combat stress, and reduce associated anxiety and depression.14
Essential oils can be taken in many ways. Some people use diffusers in their bedroom or living room, to keep them smelling nice. Some people use personal diffusers and draw a few breaths of essential oil vapor throughout the day. Some people carry a tissue with a few drops of oil on it, to breathe in when they need it. Another option is to put a few drops on your clothes or carry a piece of jewelry that holds the scent. As long as you are exposed to it steadily throughout the day, it will likely offer good benefits.
Try More than One Approach
Dealing with mental health troubles can seem like an insurmountable issue, whether it is you personally that is struggling with it or someone that you care about. When you have a broken arm, you can put it in a cast. When you have a headache, there is a good chance that painkillers will help. When you are stressed because of a clear work issue, there are options to fix that issue or to leave the job. Mental health is a less visible and more nebulous thing, but it is still a genuine issue.
You may need to try several strategies. Go to therapy, talk to your friends, find something that can keep you busy and expand your social network. Exercise, practice mindfulness, even change your diet so that you have more energy. So many small things can add up and help you to get back on track with your life. Remember that people do care about you and that you have a lot to offer the world. Your happiness is worth fighting for.
If you need someone to talk to and feel that you are not at the stage where you can talk to someone that you know, remember that there is help out there. Befrienders Worldwide is a network of trained volunteers across the world that is there to help people who are finding life a little too hard to cope with. 15 Take a look at their website, and call one of the helpline numbers if you need someone to talk to. Or, if you are feeling like you need more urgent help, seek advice from your local hospital. They are there to help people just like you.
Having celebrities come out and put the focus on mental health is a valuable thing, and it has started a conversation which has opened up many minds and already potentially saved many lives. Seeing Lena Dunham open up about her struggles, or hearing Will Young say that he finds anxiety difficult to deal with helps people to feel as if they are not alone. It’s easy to forget that just because people are presenting a perfect image of themselves on Facebook, it doesn’t mean that they are living the perfect life. Social media allows people to pick and choose what they show, and behind those Instagram posed shots, they may be dealing with just as many difficulties as you are. Be kind to people, because you don’t know what they are dealing with.
Photo Credits: antoniodiaz/shutterstock.com, JakubZak/shutterstock.com, Prostock-studio/shutterstock.com, g-stockstudio/shutterstock.com, colors/shutterstock.com, Halfpoint/shutterstock.com