Tuesday 10th October 2017

World Mental Health Day

Today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day. This is the day the World Health Organisation dedicates to raising awareness and support of global mental health issues. For us at Inkwell, we feel that every day is Mental Health Day, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’ll shy away from adding our voice to the global chorus.

There’s an interesting distinction here, the individual’s voice compared to the masses’, and we wanted to look into it a bit further. We’ve asked one of our volunteers to talk about their mental health. To kick off, we want to plant an idiom into your minds, “Knowledge wants to talk. Wisdom wants to listen.”* This is our knowledge, inviting you to share with us your wisdom.

It’s Good to Talk

By Pete Woolley

Talking – whether that’s been with friends and family, the people who come to Inkwell, or a professional counsellor – has certainly been beneficial to me coping with my fluctuating mental health.** This certainly isn’t unusual, and charities are really starting to improve awareness:

  • The UK’s Mental Health Foundation joins in with World Mental Health Day by running an event, Tea & Talk, on the 10th October. This encourages people to drink tea, eat cake, and – I suppose – talk about mental health.
  • Leeds Mind are urging people to do similar: “have a break, have a chit chat“.
  • And last year, public engagement with mental health didn’t get much bigger than when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launched Heads Together, aiming to help end stigma around mental health through – once again – conversation.

Having a conversation about mental health isn’t always easy. Here are three things that spring to mind when I think about some of the things that have come up in some of the chats I’ve had:

1) A frequent question I get is, “When did your depression start?” 

I still don’t really know the answer to it. I suspect, that for me, it won’t be useful to interrogate its origin too profoundly. Instead I want to concentrate on where I am now, how I feel now, and what I’m looking forward to. But what I do know is that the superficial appearance of my depression – when I drew within myself, when I wouldn’t eat, when I stopped communicating and started burying myself deep under the duvet – wasn’t when it started. This was just when it erupted through my surface. Who knows how deep it laid buried before then.

2) Another question I get is a question everyone gets, “How are you?”

But it feels different somehow. I find this to be a really affecting question, and I have reacted to it in different ways. I’ve felt so offended by it – by how lightly its heavy insinuation was thrown – that I’d thrust back a weighted comment about my self-harm or suicidal thoughts. But I’ve also loved it. Sometimes I can’t help but chuckle when it pops up, tactically and tactfully, somewhere in the middle of a conversation. It’s not offered out nice and early – or even at the start, that’s too obvious a place for it to sit – instead it’s buried deep into the middle of a chat. Its offered so delicately, and is often so nicely wrapped, that it feels like the person who asked it was just waiting for the ‘right moment’ to offer it.

  • Sometimes I feel like I can’t just answer ‘fine’, without having to qualify how I got to being Fine.
  • Other times I hope that the tone of our conversation answers how I’m feeling instead of having to face a direct question.
  • What I want to say is that I’m OK, but that doesn’t mean I won’t not be again – and that’s what is really fine. I’ve come to realise that depression is probably as much a part of me as my big nose, loping gait and inability to smile into a camera without blinking.
    I feel like Depression is something other than how its currently framed in our society – it feels a lot more indistinct.

3) “What does it feel like; how did you know?”

This, to me, is the bones of it. This is what I think we should talk about when we talk about mental health. This is the question that relies on empathy: If you describe how you feel, I wonder if it’s anything like how I have felt too.

Articulating your mental health is difficult. I used to feel ‘low’, or ‘blue’, or be in ‘a dark place’. I used to take sick days and stay in bed, claiming the next day that I must have had ‘that 24 hour bug’. I used euphemisms because I was scared of being glib towards a thing as profound and destabilising as depression.

Talking through it has helped me to understand it and not fear it. I am still anxious not to talk glibly about mental health. I understand that I was lucky with my depression. I lost a lot of weight quickly, I hurt and alienated people with things I said and I’m still trying to heal some of those separating scars. But I was fortunate to be able to work on my mental health. I had a job where I had paid sick leave, I was able to pay for private counselling, and start going to frequent yoga classes. Not everyone has these opportunities. But hopefully everyone would be able to try these three things:

  • Being open and honest about how you feel is a way to lift the burden you might feel, not suppress it. Suppressing your feelings can lead to a violent emotional eruption in the future. Be honest, but be considerate too: Talking about your mental health doesn’t give you a license to be cruel.
  • It doesn’t matter what steps you put in place to start feeling better – it doesn’t matter how big your strides are – knowing you’re doing something to help and focus on is positive.
  • Don’t judge progress on recent comparisons: I’m a much different person now than I was at the start of the year. I’m quite similar to the one I was yesterday.

*From Haenim Sunim’s book: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/304680/the-things-you-can-see-only-when-you-slow-down/

** Quick background: I was signed off from work in February this year with stress and depression. I have only recently returned to work.ed off from work in February this year with stress and depression. I have only recently returned to work.

If you want to see how Inkwell can help, or you want to get involved, check out our events page. We have a few open sessions on World Mental Health Day – so do pop in. Go on: have a break – have a chat!

If you just can’t wait, please do visit the Leeds Mindwell website for lots of useful contact details for services you can use.