Why we need a Mental Health Day this weekend
For many, the words « mental health » have nothing do with them. « It’s for crazy people, not me ». Or, « I’m not depressed – it’s just a bad day ». And then there’s another rubbish day and soon a week, a month or a year.
Many of us try to tell ourselves everything’s OK and in fact it’s not. Far from it.
Some of us are anxious, depressed, addicted to something, even if it’s a glass of wine a day. Others hurt themselves to ease the pain on the inside or sabotage relationships as that’s what they feel they deserve.
Yet these invisible afflictions aren’t something we talk about, with parents, friends or at the doctors. So they linger and persist till something inevitably blows up. For me it was when I was borderline anorexic, in a destructive relationship and unhappy at work. If you don’t sort out your stuff the universe will do it for you.
I got divorced, got fired and left the country to nurse my wounds on the other side of the world. Yoga and meditation got me half the way there, but I came back to the same issues. I didn’t think I was good enough, which triggered all sorts of ticks and phobia. Therapy and personal work was what the doctor ordered.
A quarter of us have issues like this and lots go untreated. They affect our home life, our well-being and our inner peace. If we had a funny mole or a stomach pain we have no qualms getting things checked out.
But if we don’t feel right, we just put it down to the blues and tell ourselves it’ll be better in the morning. But it won’t, it’ll only get worse. This Sunday, which is World Mental Health Day, is a chance for people to reach out, to call that helpline, talk to a friend, make that appointment with the expert.
If things fester, as they did with me, the body will also inevitably suffer. I dieted because I didn’t think I was good enough, and then it became a competition with myself to see how few grapes I could eat for dinner. I looked gaunt, and had stomach issues from leaving it empty for so long. And then later on I discovered my disorder had also impacted on my fertility. I got off lightly.
I work every other week in a ‘mental health clinic’ for teens. I see anorexics, depressives and self harmers – they aren’t so different from us, from people we know. They are smart, funny and beautiful humans who let niggly doubts turn into a chasm of despair. The damage is extensive and many will have severe health issues in the future. And yet this condition still stays taboo.
If a teen had another more ‘recognisable’ disease, their families would be raising money for them. Yet how many marathon runners do you see with anorexia emblazoned on their shirt?
I wish I’d had Mental Health Day when I was younger, to hear the stories of others, to share mine. Yet there are still too many barriers, too many scary words and misconceptions. Will they give me anti-depressants? Will they tell my boss? What does it mean if I’m obsessive-compulsive?
Getting professional help is the simplest and most rewarding thing anyone can do.
The chance to open up, leave our bagage with someone instead of take it home, to understand why we react in a certain way. In fact I’d recommend everybody to have therapy, because it is the most enlightening experience.
Therapy not only helped me feel more secure, but it also led me to my real vocation. I’d been in a corporate job for years that ticked all the social boxes. I remember telling people everyone down the pub I was a Marketing Director and wondering who was I trying to convince more, my friends or me.
After a few years of psychoanalysis, I got to know myself and realised that I’m not the extrovert I thought I was.
Being constantly happy was in fact a mask I wore.
I also found out that I was gasping for some creative inspiration. So I began to write. Blogs then books then scripts. Many wise souls including Deepak Chopra have said when you’re in your groove in life, doing the thing you love, you’ll be truly happy in yourself, and abundantly rewarded. It’s true. I’ve been writing and now producing for almost ten years and even though there are moments of self-doubt, I’ve never been more fulfilled.
So as well as World Mental Health Day, perhaps it should be called « finding yourself » day. Many of us are lost, to a greater or lesser degree, and with some coaching guidance and analysis we can not only get out of the dark hole, we can actually stand in the light.
Accepting that things aren’t right and having that first session means you’re already on the road to recovery.
Elizabeth Kesses is a writer, producer and self-esteem advocate.
Image à la Une : illustration officielle du World Mental Health Day 2021.