I’ve been at university for about six weeks now and it’s already feeling like a second home. My course is great and my flatmates are lovely. It’s funny how quickly you can become close friends with somebody when you live with them.
We talk about everything – from the Scottish independence vote to how many pairs of socks we brought with us (not enough!); from what we bought at Aldi this week to if there really is a god; from who’s caught our eye in our lectures to what songs we used to sing in primary school… anything goes.
Apart from one thing.
Mental health. And it’s not just at uni that this is a problem. I’ve noticed it everywhere. At school, at church, with my friends, and with my family. Why is it that mental health has become such a taboo?
‘I think I’m coming down with a cold’ or ‘I’ve got such a headache’ – we don’t seem to have a problem with talking about our physical health. But when it comes to the wellbeing of our minds we decide to keep our mouths shut and deal with it alone. We open a new tab online and Google ‘I’m feeling really down’ and try to make sense of it through cyber doctors and medical forums. Then someone knocks on our bedroom door and we quickly exit the window, making a mental note to delete our internet history later – as if it’s something to be ashamed of.
Someone very close to me back home is going through a difficult time and has just been prescribed anti-depressants. As I sit here in my uni room, 100 miles away from my home town, I feel helpless. I’m worried about them and I wish I could keep them here with me, to look out for and to love. But I’m here, and they’re there.
I felt I couldn’t tell my flatmates about my concern. People don’t talk about that kind of thing. I thought they’d think I was paranoid or overprotective and wouldn’t understand.
But one day I mustered up the courage to express what I’m feeling – that I’m worried about someone back home. And they didn’t mock, they didn’t laugh, or tell me to get over it. They understood – because they’re going through the same thing.
Each one of us sat at that table had a mum, friend, brother or boyfriend back home who had a mental health issue. Naturally, we were all worried about them, but we’d kept it to ourselves.
This is half the problem, we’re too scared to talk about these issues so they never get dealt with. They’re left to build up until we feel we might explode with emotions, words and tears. Maybe if we weren’t so reluctant to talk about it, people could be more open about how they’re feeling. They can be supported sooner, and receive help if they need it.
So if you’re worried about your own mental health, or that of someone close to you, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Find a friend, someone you trust, a mentor, a family member and talk. The likelihood is that they’ll have gone through something similar.
Maybe we can also be more careful with the way we use our words. We throw around phrases like ‘Kill me now’ and ‘FML’ as if they mean nothing when really we’re underestimating the precious value of our lives. We don’t know what those around us have been through and these words might spark painful memories.
Let’s show a little more respect and a lot more understanding – and let’s talk about mental health.