#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek – The value of talking

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As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the past few weeks since I first spoke about my recent mental health struggles and talk about…well, talking.

As a new parent, you often think about your child saying their first words and learning to talk. I’d hate to think that Raife couldn’t talk about the important things when he’s older.

It’s bizarre, really, isn’t it? We will happily spend all day talking about trivial things like the weather, a cat video we saw on Facebook or the latest meme, even the lives of ‘celebrities’. And yet so many of us don’t feel like we can talk to someone – a partner, a family member or a close friend – when things are tough.

Talking about mental health isn’t the only way to cope and improve, but it can’t make such a big difference!

Telling my wife about what I’ve been struggling with has helped me immeasurably. Even if we hadn’t said a single word about it since, just the fact that someone else was aware of what I’m going through was a huuuuuuuge weight off my shoulders. It helps others to understand what you’re going through, when and how you might be struggling, and how they can help to perhaps alleviate some of the stresses or triggers.

There were some really unexpected things to come from writing that blog post, as well. Friends, who I’d barely had a ‘serious’ conversation with before, spoke to me about their own mental health problems, advice on how to cope and improve. One even said I was one of very few people they had told about their depression. Suddenly, within the space of a few hours, I went from no one knowing and feeling like a huge weight was on my shoulders, to everyone knowing (well, everyone who actually read the blog!) and having a handful of open and honest conversations about mental health. It was so freeing. I felt light for the first time in months.

Then came the really unexpected bit. My family isn’t really one that has ever spoken about the serious things. We rarely tell each other we love them. It’s more of ‘goes without saying’ kind of thing that we’re there for each other if needed. Just a few months ago, something life-changing happened to a close family member and I just sort of said “Are you alright?”, they nodded and said “yeah!”. And that was it, really. I later text and said ‘Didn’t really know what to say earlier. If you want to talk, you know where I am.’

I had open and honest conversations with both my brother and my Dad about my mental health. The one with my brother was spur of the moment. And the one with my Dad was planned, a ‘let’s go for a drink and have chat about what you’ve been going through’. I think the last time I had a serious discussion with my dad was when he tried to give me ‘the talk’ at the age of 19. Obviously, I tried to stop him talking as soon as possible. I wouldn’t say I was nervous about talking to my Dad, with I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it! The thing that took me by surprise was just how normal it felt with both of them. We’d never really had a conversation about serious things, but here we were talking about mental health. It wasn’t awkward at all.

So many people suffering with mental health problems don’t say anything because they’re worried they’ll be seen as weak, or worried about how their friends and family will react. But there really is nothing to fear.

No matter how overwhelmed you feel, those closest to you will always be there to help you through it. And even if you don’t yet feel ready to speak to those close to you, there are charities like Mind and other organistions that offer amazing support.

You’re not alone.

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