I was so busy worrying about my physical health earlier this week, after my car accident, that I did not mark World Mental Health Day as I usually would. So rather belatedly, I would like to consider how physical health differs from mental health : Since I crashed my car on Wednesday , I have received lots of sympathy , two bouquets and yesterday, my husband looked after me really well – running me a bath, doing the shopping and lighting a fire to keep warm. It is understood that I was in an accident and that I am achy and sore and people know how to respond, as they can see the damage and they know the reason for the pain and they know I will heal in due course.
But mental health problems are not at all like that : often the cause is unknown, the symptoms are less clear to see unless you know someone really well and there is a less definitive time-frame on recovery. It is possible for the sufferer to cover up some mental health issues and to function, and so it can go undiagnosed and hidden for a long time. While people can relate to physical injuries, they know how to sympathise, most tend to be much less confident in discussing mental health. You would not tell someone with a broken leg to get a grip or to keep their chin up, but somehow these seem to be acceptable responses to mental health sufferers, and both will simply add to the pressure and guilt that is already being felt, so are really unhelpful responses.
You would not try to fix someone with a broken limb or suffering with cancer, but while some people ignore mental health totally, others offer advice about what works for them when they are sad. Take it from me, real depression is not just like having a bad day or feeling sad; it is much more debilitating than that and it changes the whole personality, so that a confident, sociable, positive person can be transformed into a solitary, withdrawn person who lacks any self-confidence and is paralysed by negative thoughts. In my experience, there is no quick fix or magic potion that can reverse the balance of the mind, it takes time and a lot of being kind and patient with oneself.
So if you know that someone in your life is struggling with their mental health at the moment, give them your time and consideration and let them know that you are there for them. Send them a funny story or a hug by text, pay them a surprise visit or send them a gift ; just let them know that you care and that you will be by their side, whether they think that they need you or not. Let them know that it is OK not be be OK, that you will love them just the same.