Wednesday 31 January 2018

Talking about Mental Health

Hayley explains how even though the thought of speaking out about mental health can be difficult at first, it is all worth it in the end!
- Hayley

Words are difficult. They always have and always will be. The difficulty is that what comes across may not be what we want to say and what we mean. There’s so much built up in our thought, that we cannot express this fully with just words alone.

With words, we can express things in writing, or even combined with art, like in comics. But, talking? It provides new territory that is difficult to navigate. There’s one quote that always sticks out to me whenever I think about this particular issue which is, “He was less of himself out loud. His native language was thought.” (The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater).

This is especially true for talking about mental health. With mental illness, it is especially daunting because of the stigmas attached to talking about it. We are dealing with the struggles of expressing thoughts that might be too big to explain with words easily.

For me, there have been varied experiences of speaking about my mental health - some are good, some bad. But ultimately, talking about mental health has been worth it.

Number one is with therapists. This was a good one. At first, it was difficult to explain how I felt and what I was thinking, but I learnt to. With the right encouragement, it became easier. Over 12 one-hour sessions, I talked about mental health in a group. Through this, I could both explain my experiences whilst also listening to the different way other people spoke about experiencing the same things. Although good, talking was difficult at first; the feelings feel too large to be captured by singular words. But without talking, I would never developed as I did.

Secondly, friends.  This was easiest - professionals are daunting because they are experts. But with friends? They are your peers - it is easier to connect with them. Friends won’t analyse what you say, or figuring out treatment plans. They provide a different service. They help you to gather your thoughts in preparation to talk to doctors or parents. Friends have helped me to describe my thoughts in easier and clearer ways. They supported me when I needed to talk. I realised that these are issues that need to be talked about more, especially with students. Friends provided the groundwork necessary to push myself to talk about this.

Both the hard and easier parts of talking about mental health need to be considered together. Given the stigma surrounding mental health, talking will seem always hard. But the good in talking outweighs the bad by so much. I have dealt with a lot of negativity and disbelief when I have spoken about mental health, but I have also had people be the opposite. I have had people be understanding, compassionate, helpful, and just be kind. Many people I would never have even met without talking about my mental health. I would never have realised that this is something I can deal with. This is something I can manage. By talking about it, I learned how to get better. Talking about it starts the conversation, and everyone else can help you finish it when you don’t know how to do it yourself. All that is required in starting a conversation is to say you need help when you need it. Everyone else, friends, professionals or whoever else, will respond. They can provide ways to finish the conversation.

It will always be tricky and daunting, but it is always worth starting the conversation about mental health, especially when you are struggling. Talking about it opens doors; it helps you see the way out of a dark, scary and disorientating experience, because someone will respond with something that helps you. So, talk about mental health - open those doors, and someone will show you the way out.

Hi! I'm Hayley I am a third year psychology student at Oxford Brookes. I have been volunteering as a a Student Minds facilitator for a year. I hope that by sharing my experiences and knowledge of mental health it will help others in similar scenarios.

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