Living with a mental illness like depression can be overwhelming. It can manifest in different ways, from the anxiety which creeps up as soon as you leave the house, to the inescapable emptiness which leaves you numb inside. Living with a mental illness is difficult, but it has NOTHING to do with weakness.
Mental illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or location. Having one is nothing to be ashamed of. That you get up and fight your demons every day is a testament to your sheer strength and bravery. But you don’t need to fight every battle by yourself. It’s OK to need help. You are not alone.
More than 350 million people suffer from some kind of mental illness. Right here in Canada, mental illness is a leading cause of disability. 20% of all Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. A whopping 55% of people suffering from a mental illness don’t even know they’ve got one.
World Mental Health Day is a chance for us to raise awareness about mental health issues in a world where millions silently suffer. You’ve probably seen a bunch of articles about mental health today. Facts, figures, and hashtags get thrown about all over the place to showcase how important it is.
Although it’s wonderful so many people are talking about mental health, this one-day social media frenzy often results in a lot of people talking AT other people and not enough people talking TO other people. We’ll write blogs, Like or share the occasional Facebook post, and make sure #WMHD is trending. But then it’s October 11th and we all get back to our hectic schedules.
Mental health isn’t something which only matters once a year. It’s a huge part of our lives. It affects us and those around us on a daily basis. It should be given the attention it deserves. Statistically speaking, you probably know someone suffering – secretly or otherwise – from a mental illness. So in addition to raising awareness about mental health today, I encourage you to go one step further. Do one small thing which can improve someone’s mental well-being right now.
Talk to someone. That’s it. Just talk. None of that superficial, insincere, lovely-weather-we’re-having-today, small talk rubbish. I mean, really talk to someone. Reach out. Send a message. Start a conversation. Empathise. Listen. Ask questions. Be interested. Show someone that you’re thinking of them. That you’re there for them. That they matter. That they’re loved.
It doesn’t even need to be a conversation about mental health. The important thing is that you emotionally connect with another human being. Speaking from experience, a simple “Hey, how’s everything?” from a friend can transform a horrible day into a fairly decent one.
You might think such a small action won’t make one iota of difference, but I unequivocally believe it can. I know it can. The smallest act of kindness is a catalyst for bigger and better things. Simply by starting a friendly dialogue, you’re giving someone the confidence to share their problems in a safe environment, where they won’t feel judged or stigmatised. An open mind, a friendly smile, and a compassionate heart is how we will end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
And as great as it is that you’re helping others, it’s important to take some time and think about your own mental health. Remember, MEntal health starts with ‘me’. (In this analogy, it technically starts with you, but “Untal Health” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Maybe go for a run. Read a good book. Do some yoga. Try cooking. Pick up a new hobby. Watch TV. Take a nap. Have a relaxing bath. Hit the gym. Eat half a cake. Then eat the other half, too. Do whatever it takes to de-stress yourself.
You deserve a happy life, even if you believe you don’t.
(And cake. You also deserve cake.)