14 Aug 2017

Stop relying on those struggling to speak first

(CW: talk of suicide.)

I’m a bit irritated. 

I used to blog a lot when I was irritated. I loved having fierce emotions and strong opinions but when my mental health started going up the spout, my fierce emotions became a misdirected mess and I had no opinions on anything because what’s the fucking point, am I right. 

But I’m irritated and tired at a particular part of the mental health conversation so I’m here and ready to bang my gavel.

It’s a repeated and basic point, but social media is both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to mental health. It allows a space for all to explore and be open, and it allows for trolls and bullies and thoughts and opinions from all angles. It’s liberating, but it’s exhausting. It’s progressive, but it’s dangerous. Ad infinitum. 

Thanks to social media, we also now know pretty quickly when someone - more often a celebrity/someone well known - takes their own life. There’s likely no warning. We refresh and suddenly know about the actions they took often no longer than 24 hours previously. Sometimes we don’t know them, sometimes we know of them, and sometimes we know them and like them and love them. It’s a hard thing to stomach. 

I try and stay out of the aftermath when this happens. I find it hard to read stories on suicide, especially when they’re so raw, and I know I can’t contribute to the conversation. I feel anything I say will be futile and so I step away, but not before I get probably irrationally angry at tweets and Facebook statuses and Instagram posts ordering those struggling with their mental health to talk. 

“Please tell someone if you’re feeling suicidal!!!”
“Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Say something.”
“I’m always here if you need a chat. xxx”
“I can’t believe someone could feel so lost that they’d commit suicide?!!” 

It’s not ‘commit suicide’, because suicide is no longer a crime. Say they took their own life, ‘completed’ suicide, or killed themselves. Do not say ‘commit’. Ok? Ok.

If I end up grating my teeth so hard just writing this post that I get sore and can’t eat dinner later then I’m gonna be so fucking angry. And I’m really trying to not be angry, and blunt, and sarcastic, because that’s not too healthy when talking about mental health, and especially suicide. I’m trying.

But, believe it or not, people who are struggling with their mental health likely know that they should talk. They know that there are people out there who would listen, whether it be their family, friends, teachers, colleagues, GP, a stranger on a helpline, strangers on social media. They know. They know that the biggest step can be admitting you’re struggling, starting that conversation.

They know. 

They don’t need an old school friend, who they’ve only still got on Facebook because they like keeping up with the dramatic oversharing, saying that their inbox is always open if you need to talk xoxoxoxoxox. They don’t need another thread on Twitter with thousands of numbers telling them to talk if they think suicide is their only option. They don’t need a whimsy Instagram quote on a beautiful background with an unncessary amount of hashtags telling them that they’re important and life is beautiful. 

It’s not enough. They know. People who struggle with their mental health may have irrational thoughts, but they still know they’re not ok, most of the time. They know about the importance of talking. They know who they can talk to. But they need more. They need:

1) The tools and skills to help them talk about how they’re feeling, and

2) Others to start the conversation for them

And 2) is what I’m encouraging here. That’s what I’m highlighting, what I’m shoving on a billboard, what I’m sticking up in neon lights with fireworks.

S T A R T T H E C O N V E R S A T I O N F O R T H E M.

Disclaimer: No, it’s not your responsibility to care for someone’s mental health. It’s not your responsibility to fix anything and provide answers. It’s not your responsibility to be responsible. But the art of conversation and learning and practising the skills to talk about mental health - your own and others’ - is important and underrated.

Please don’t get me wrong. I encourage the encouragement to get those struggling to speak up and not be afraid to talk about their mental health. Hell, I ran a fucking marathon (here she is, banging on about the marathon again) for Heads Together, whose message was just that. I encourage conversations and taking those first steps and going to see your GP. That’s great. It’s important. It’s not futile and pointless and basic. But it cannot stop there. You cannot rely on that. Everyone is different, their situations are different, and making it obvious that you can talk about your struggles is not enough.

A lot of people don’t know HOW to talk about their mental health, their thoughts, their emotions. We’re not taught it. Someone might WANT to speak up, but they don’t know where to bloody start. That’s something for another post. 

A lot of people are obviously unwell. They’re down or anxious. Their behaviours have changed. They’re erratic. They’re emotional. It’s noticeable. But those around them don’t know how to broach it. They feel embarrassed or like it’s not their place, so they wait for the person to admit it themselves. That’s also something for another post. Another another post.

A lot of people are secretly unwell. They’re good actors, they have coping mechanisms. They’re charmers. They’re jokers. They’re good at excuses, they’re extroverts. They’re high-functioning and they’re different people when they’re alone again. 

You’re not meant to be mind-readers, so what do you do then? 

The lesson here, to me, is to always be talking about mental health. You don’t have to struggle to talk about it. You don’t have to use technical language. You don’t need a psychology degree. You don’t have to talk about feeling bad, you can talk about feeling good. That’s still mental health. You can explore why you’re feeling certain ways with someone, and you can ask how that someone is too. 

You can drop them a text.

You can meet up for lunch.

You can go for a walk. 

You can ask them how things are going and how they’re doing. You can check in. You can talk about your own feelings to make it obvious you’re open. You can be invested in those around you, always. The more comfortable you make your relationships, the more likely someone will reach out should they need to. 

It shouldn’t take someone taking their own life for you to insist that you’re always there and your inbox is open. Mental health shouldn’t be a topic solely focused on when tragedy strikes. It’s not seasonal, it’s not topical at all. It should be an ongoing conversation, just part of your life, however you and your loved ones are doing and feeling. Always check in.
So when you feel compelled to tell people you’re always there for a chat or to urge those struggling to speak out, start talking yourself. Start talking now, go on. Send a text. Send a Snapchat with a rabbit filter, whatever. You’re not a mind reader and you can’t stop anyone from feeling mentally unwell, but maybe you’ll encourage someone to reach out. Maybe you’ll give them an opportunity instead of near-shaming them for not taking the step blindly themselves.

Don’t rely on those struggling to open up. Open up for them. Be aware. Be mindful. Be kind. That’s all.

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