Mental health. I fucking hate that term. What the fuck does it even mean? “Mental” has such a negative connotation as a word in isolation and then just stick “health” on it for good measure. Feels like a contradiction in terms. I have probably only really thought about mental health in any capacity for the last 3 years and it was only bought to my attention through my job. I spent a year working with people with severe mental and physical health problems. I was tasked with helping them to manage their health better in the hope of, in the long term, moving towards sustainable employment. The role was one of support worker, counsellor, life coach, motivator and mental health nurse. None of which I was qualified to do. I was picked purely because of my personality and probably in part because my manager thought I might moan the least about being given the short straw.
So I spent a year, 9 hours a day, 30 minutes or 1 hour back- to-back appointments with people who were really suffering. And I mean REALLY suffering. I remember the first time someone told me they were going to commit suicide. I was shocked. The person was an alcoholic and she was completely pissed at the time. She had called me up to tell me what she was going to do and I had no idea how to handle it. I tried to talk her round but I put the phone down feeling like I had failed. I had to make a call to the police to do a welfare check. I was shaken and very upset by the whole experience. It stayed with me and worried me for a long time. I also remember the first time someone told me they had been raped and how it had affected their whole life. The stories I’ve heard are horrific. It was a harrowing first few months and I spent a lot of time in the pub.
6 months in, nothing shocked me anymore. I had heard every conceivable story. I was working with people suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug/alcohol addictions and eating disorders. I was dealing with people who regularly self-harmed and suicide was a daily topic. I became numb to the shock of it but in a good way because it actually helped me to normalise it and to take the emotion out of it. I could think logically about how I could best help people. I wasn’t afraid to ask someone what their suicide plan was, or if they were safely self-harming. I became very knowledgeable about the NHS mental health service (or lack of). I could discuss different medications, services available, how to access them, what was good and bad. I met with the crisis team and the community mental health team. I didn’t panic when clients would come in having an episode of mania talking about how the government were tapping their phone or that they were in fact Jesus. (As far as I’m aware, he wasn’t Jesus but who am I to say for sure?)
It was my “normal” and I think that’s where the problem lies. It’s still not seen as normal to discuss mental health. It seems to be a thing reserved for people who are in crisis. Well actually we all have “mental health” and we slide up and down the scale of feeling good and bad each day. And when we’re feeling bad, it’s so hidden. I wish you could see mental health as an open wound. One of those really gnarly (yes I did just use that word) head-split-open-with-blood-and-brain-hanging-out type of wounds. Like the special effects make up on a really bad 80’s horror movie, anatomically completely incorrect but looks horrific and works never the less. One that if someone saw it, they’d say “Fuck, mate, you’re in a bad way, let me help you.”
So can we make a pact please? A pact to actually start talking about it? If you knew your mate was in a bad way, wouldn’t you want to move heaven and earth to make them feel better? In fact, you’d probably be pissed off that they hadn’t told you sooner. So if you would do that for other people, why wouldn’t they want to do that for you? You see! It works both ways. Yes, it’s hard to reach out to people, maybe you don’t want to bother them, maybe you don’t know what to say. Fuck it, just try it. Do it. Tell someone how you feel. And better yet: ASK PEOPLE HOW THEY FEEL. You’re not being nosy or annoying. You’re caring, you’re showing love. And as one of my very amazing and wise friends recently told me, nothing bad can come from loving someone. So let’s do this yeah? Promise? Ok….good. Let me know how you get on with it, I’d love to know. If this blog can inspire one conversation about mental health, just one, I’d literally be the happiest person ever. So do my mental health a favour and let’s make this happen. Cheers dude.