Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness week, which aims to raise awareness of issues around mental illness, as well as focusing on this years theme which is the importance of relationships. I believe its incredibly important to have events like this, as they spotlight peoples attention onto the illness, and also help non-sufferers to be exposed to the many sources of information that are being put out for consumption during this week. Information is everything, and if this week can help spread it to all corners of the population, then its done its job.
I’ve touched upon the importance of relationships and support from others in a number of blogs, and it really can’t be emphasised enough the positive influence of interactions and communications with other people, which are vital to every human being, but even more so for sufferer’s of depression due to the fact that feelings of loneliness and isolation are so intrinsically attached to low mood. The cyclical nature of depression often results in the things you need most also being the things you desire the least. When the despair hits, and your insides feel like they have been torn out, all you crave is to hide away from people, as interacting feels so arduous, and exhausting. However, inevitably this lack of interchange then leads to the feelings of detachment, loneliness and heartache, and precipitates the mood sinking further and further down, because although you feel that all you need is to be alone, this has the reverse affect of creating a yearning for human contact…for a friendly face, or a comforting word.
One of the significant truths is that people suffering from depression may desperately want to reach out, but as a result of the aforementioned perceived need to hide oneself away, it may transpire that they feel unable to open up and alert others that they are in a difficult place. I therefore believe that the most important sentiment that can be nurtured this week is the knowledge that just because someone hasn’t reached out, doesn’t mean they are ok. Contrary to what we are brought up believing, no news is not necessarily always good news. Being aware of when a friend or loved one is struggling and needs love and support is the biggest skill needed when tackling mental health, and only by education and raising awareness can this be achieved. If you know someone with depression or similar, know that there is a good chance they are feeling lonely, friendless or unloved, and so reaching out to them, even if indirectly, could prove unequivocally beneficial to them in their quest to scale the mountain of their current torment. I’ve used the following quote from Stephen Fry a number of times before, but I believe this week more than any other it is particularly pertinent:
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
All of those emotions that he lists I felt at the weekend, and in fact can feel on most days. They may be brief flirtations, or full on affairs in scale, but they are always there just below the surface, waiting to rear their head. Each day can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and one minute you can be ok and settled, and the next moment feel like you have gone 10 rounds with Floyd Mayweather. As with a fallen boxer, the challenge is getting back up again when you have been knocked down. It’s the hardest thing in the world, as you know your opponent is there waiting to knock you down again. Thats where relationships come in. If you have friends, family and loved ones in the ring with you, then you have the upper hand, and together can knock depression into the ropes.
My advice this week would therefore be to make the most of all of the information out there in newspapers, on TV, online, and in workplaces, as it really is the best time to gain awareness of mental health due to the plethora of materials available. I’d also suggest that the one negative aspect of Mental Health Awareness Week is the reference to ‘week’ in its name. Mental illnesses are there every day of the year, and when the flag waving of this week is over, and the broadcasters and media outlets stop talking about depression now they have ‘done their bit’, don’t forget that the pain of sufferers doesn’t stop, and the need to shout from the rooftops doesn’t end. Let’s make this week the start of change, rather than just a speck in time. Let’s ensure that the flow of information doesn’t end, and the talking doesn’t stop. It’s far too important for that to happen.