Is it time to reframe your opinions of mental health (including your own)?

Has stress ever felt suffocating, has the ‘black dog’ (as Churchill called depression) ever got hold of you or have you had some dark nights of the soul?

This week’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK is a powerful movement to end the stigma regarding mental health and the notion that suffering from stress or depression are something to be ashamed of.

Both stress and depression have impacted my life in different ways, and I suspect in some form they have touched all of our lives.  My Mum suffered from depression, and as a family, we didn’t know how to talk about that or deal with that in a very positive way. I never discussed Mums depression with my friends, preferring to keep it private. My teenage memory is of feeling helpless and sad for Mums obvious turmoil, and a slight judgmental anger, wishing she would just ‘deal with it’. In adulthood, my judgment was dissolved by my compassion – and this was a pivotal change that enabled me to be more supportive and kind. I wonder what conversations could have been had when I was growing up to make that shift earlier.  A quote that helped me make the shift was

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

This quote softens me into more loving-kindness for others, and for myself. Try it out. Does that quote change how you perceive some people? Or even help you to be less harsh on yourself?

While I don’t suffer from depression, life has had its challenges and I have had innumerable angst-ridden ‘dark nights of the soul’.  One such time was when I was dealing with immense pressure at work. This had been going on for many months. I meditated, eat well, had occasional acupuncture, talked to mentors and took many other actions to try to keep myself ‘in balance’, to get me through it.  But the pressure and demands on me kept increasing. All the signs were telling me that this situation was not good for body, mind or soul. Yet what kept me trapped in that situation for so long was the thought that ‘I should be able to deal with this’ and that I was ‘weak’ if I didn’t stick with it. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever spoken to yourself like that?

It’s kind of crazy to think of stepping away from something detrimental to one’s wellbeing as a sign of ‘weakness’.

This I feel is a societal stigma and thankfully a reframe is slowly happening.  It took a huge amount of courage and self-love to finally say ‘this is too much pressure and I won’t keep doing this’. My situation improved immeasurable from there, although I did feel residues of shame for a while. I kept reminding myself that to endure oppressively high levels of stress is not a badge of honour or statement of my worthiness.

The distressing feelings that kept resurfacing over those months were, in fact, a neon flashing red light that the situation needed to change. If such signs are ignored and if someone continues to push themselves to a place of imbalance for a prolonged period there is a risk of serious health impacts further down the road. Besides, it’s an unhappy place to keep yourself in.  Mental health matters.

I believe we can all do our part to end stigmas about stress and depression, by firstly being honest with ourselves about any judgments we have of ourselves or another who is suffering. Then have a new healthier more loving conversations on these topics.  A kind thought and a kind word can go a long way to providing the support and understanding that we all need.