Today is World Mental Health Day. It aims to raise awareness of an illness as debilitating as a physical one but so often overlooked and regarded as ‘a choice’.
I have extremely close friends who have suffered from depression, anxiety, post natal depression, OCD, panic attacks. I have felt some of these things before too – I think we all have at one point or another.
Some of us have suffered for only a short time. Some of us have suffered for a long time.
And for some, these life-affecting illnesses will be a battle they will fight for the rest of their lives. There is not really a ‘cure’. There are medicines, lifestyle changes and alternative therapies that can help. But the biggest help of all is other people understanding. And not giving up on them.
They need to know we wont give up on them when they feel like giving up on themselves. They need to know that it isn’t ‘not coping’.
If someone broke their leg, we wouldn’t tell them they ‘weren’t coping’ with walking. If someone lost their sight, we wouldn’t tell they ‘weren’t coping’ with seeing. So if someone is enveloped in a dark cloud of depression, we shouldn’t – no, mustn’t – make them feel like they’re not coping. We must help them cope.
So this is what I say to anyone all-too-personally affected by a mental health condition:
It’s ok to cry.
It’s ok to want to sleep.
It’s ok to find work difficult.
It’s ok to wear pyjamas all day.
You’re allowed to have a bad day. Or a bad week. Or month. Or year.
It’s ok to not be ok.
It’s ok to be honest.
It’s ok to tell someone.
It’s ok to ugly cry on your best friends until you’re exhausted.
And if someone tells you they are feeling completely suffocated by a dark cloud which is threatening to burst open at any moment and consume them…
Be their safe haven. Their shelter.
Be their umbrella.