Wow! A lot has happened in the past few weeks and months. In fact, 2020 has thrown quite a lot at us when it comes to mental health. I’m not the type to write off the year because of that, but I have to acknowledge that it’s come with its challenges and that many people are struggling.
First corona virus hit us hard, and in the past few weeks there have been a lot of uprisings around the world against racism and social injustice after the death of George Floyd. It’s clear to me that these issues and many more are affecting our mental health, they are weighing heavily on us and creating stress. The fact is this isn’t new, many people and especially minorities have borne the burden of their status for decades or even centuries. But it seems that finally this burden is coming to light and prompting new conversations. I can only hope these will also provoke lasting change.
In this context, it felt appropriate to highlight how mental health concerns each and every one of us: mental health is for everyone.
What do I mean by “mental health is for everyone”?
As I’ve said before, mental health has often been perceived as being “a crazy person’s problem”. It’s reserved for only those with serious issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or mental breakdowns which is part of why it’s been a taboo topic for so long. But I hope you’ve realized as a reader of this blog, mental health is way more than that.
The topics I usually cover are related to mental health at work, and I distinguish between work-induced mental health issues, or bringing mental health to work. But I’ve also talked about the role mental health plays in dance or artistic expression, or recently how exceptional circumstances such as those experienced during quarantine can also have a huge impact on our mental well-being.
It’s high time we realized how omnipresent mental health is in our lives, and how we are all affected by it.
Situations in which your mental health might suffer
- You’re a POC (person of colour) and you have been exposed to racism for most of your life. You continuously have to educate your white friends and those around you on what it’s like to be a POC, or you don’t engage in the conversations because it’s too exhausting. Still, you are carrying a burden.
- You are another minority (LGBTQ, disabled, female, underprivileged or of lower income etc.) and you often face an uphill battle when it comes to getting where or what you want in life.
- You are experiencing financial difficulties, which are causing you concern. You might be worried about being able to pay rent, put food on the table, look after your relatives if you need to (be it children, parents or siblings), paying for your car or public transport. The basic needs you have yet perhaps can’t cover.
- You are dealing with traumatic issues on a regular basis. You might be a first-responder, a doctor in the emergency ward, working on a suicide hotline… No matter what it is. There are many jobs in which people have to face difficult circumstances on a regular basis. And while they may be able to create distance, there’s no doubt it affects their mental health. The best example right now are all the doctors and nurses that have been on the frontline during the corona crisis, these were extremely trying times for them.
- You’re going through a divorce or experiencing difficult relationship issues. The grief, sadness and challenges of separation shouldn’t be ignored. Depending on your situation, you may be feeling hurt, betrayed, wronged… You might be worrying how you will cope moving forward, have financial concerns, and if you have kids, wondering how you can still do the best for them.
- You’re suffering from post-partum depression. Perhaps your experience as a new mother is overwhelming for you. You love your baby but you’re worried: am I going to be a good mother? Will I know how to look after my child? What if I get it wrong? And thousands of other questions or moments of doubt, coupled with sleep deprivation.
- You’re feeling isolated. The fact is, it doesn’t take quarantine or lockdown measures for people to feel isolated. The resources I read suggest many older people feel isolated, either because they’re living by themselves having lost a spouse, or because all their children have moved away, particularly now that we have increased mobility, with people opting to live in cities or abroad. A podcast I listened to a while ago also highlighted the fact that many men feel lonely. Isolation and loneliness are detrimental to our mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety or depression.
The list of “everyday situations” in which we experience mental health issues goes on and on. Some of these are linked to our jobs of course: the burden of responsibility, being overworked, toxic environments… It could also be bullying at school, online bullying or feeling ostracized.
The point I’m trying to make is that we are all at risk of experiencing mental health issues, or at the very least having poor mental health. That’s why it’s so important for us to learn how to take care of, and prioritize it.
Things you can do to look after your mental health
The first step in this process that I have always advocated for, is raising awareness around mental health so we can break the stigma. The second point, is learning to have conversations about it. Here are some other things to take into account:
- Recognize that you have mental health. Are you feeling exhausted after a hard or day, or emotionally drained? That is part of your mental health. Recognize it as such.
- Value it. Realize that it’s important to be in a good state of mind to look after yourself and others. Realize how much a good state of mind can contribute to a better and more positive lifestyle, and how you can use that energy to shape your environment.
- Take care of it. Now you’re more aware of your mental state and health, make time to care for it. This could be carving time out after work, taking some “me time”, stop checking the news and social media, or simply disengaging from conversations that exhaust you. And that’s ok.
- Prioritize it. We have to get better at setting boundaries for ourselves, be it in our personal or professional lives. That could mean that sometimes you don’t take it upon yourself to educate your friends about race issues, organize a rally, or shout tirelessly about the injustice you see. It could mean you push back on a demanding colleague or a ridiculous deadline. It could even mean declining a social event.
- Talk about it. I know I keep harping on about this but it is so important. Yes you need to talk about the mental burden you’re feeling, to acknowledge and voice that you’re not feeling okay. It’s important to speak up so we’re not hiding how we are feeling from others. If people don’t realize the difficulty of our experiences, nothing will change. We’re all human and we all struggle, the sooner we can realize we’re all in this together, the better.
- Support each other. Once we start to talk about it, we can get better at supporting one another. At listening and understanding when someone else is struggling. At knowing what to say to them and empathizing with their situation.
- Create the resources we need. Today we still suffer from a lack of resources: whether it’s hotlines, charities, information, healthcare practitioners, you name it… Luckily things are progressing and more is being invested but at a time when mental health is becoming a global crisis, it’s not yet enough. That’s why each one of us should contribute however we can.
With this blog post, I want us to realize how omnipresent mental health is, and to prioritize these conversations. It’s not just about raising awareness but also about supporting each other. If we can understand each other’s suffering, we will be better enabled to offer support when people need it most.