Mental health. Now that we’ve all been plunged into another lockdown, it’s being mentioned a lot. Whether it be TV campaigns encouraging you to reach out to each other, or your tutors reminding you to look after yourselves, it’s impossible to avoid. So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about mental health in general, as well as my own experiences.
The first thing you might be thinking is: ‘how are you qualified to talk about this?’ Good question, I’m not. I’ve had no psychology education, the majority of things I know have come from my own experiences. This in itself is a travesty, the fact that (although changes are being made now) people are growing up not knowing how to look after their mental health, or, importantly, what to watch out for in other people. Learning about it should be mandatory in all schools, and hopefully, soon it will be. The fact that often people have to go through mental health issues before they understand them, can make it very divisive.
For example, I remember one time I went to see Frozen 2 at the cinema. Although the story is about some royal sisters and a talking snowman, if you listen to the lyrics of a lot of those songs, they can be applied to mental health issues. I particularly remember the song ‘The Next Right Thing’. I’ll try not to give too much away, but in the story, Ana is in a cave and is struggling to carry on with the quest that the characters find themselves on. As I was listening to it, I couldn’t help but think about how it could be about depression, and you can understand why, with lyrics such as “hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb”, and “can there be a day beyond this night?”
Listening to it, I was absolutely weeping because it brought back a lot of old feelings. But the person I was there with didn’t see that at all, and, through no fault of their own, didn’t understand why I was still so upset even once we had left the cinema. To them, and I imagine, to the majority of the audience, it was just a story. I’d never wish depression on anyone, but it’s easy to see how a divide can develop: people who have suffered from mental health issues, and those who haven’t.
I don’t know what my point is exactly. Maybe it’s about better (or any, I don’t remember it being mentioned at all when I was in school) mental health education. Maybe it’s me trying to encourage you to expand your knowledge and understanding if you can. As much as you try, it can be hard to help someone who is suffering, but it’s all too easy to make it worse if you know nothing about it.
A sort of breakthrough for me was when I realised that everyone has a reason for being the way they are, or doing things the way they do. Whether it be a one-off conversation they had as a teenager or a serious mental health issue, all of our life experiences combine to make us who we are. We may never know the reasons why someone is the way they are – they may never know themselves, but we should always respect that there will be reasons. I’ve found that comforting somehow, although I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it was just finding an excuse for all the aspects about myself that I don’t like. Or maybe it was realising even more so that everyone is the protagonist of their own story – clichéd as it sounds.
While I’m talking about understanding ourselves, one thing that concerned me when the first lockdown was announced was how much I didn’t hate the idea. With my anxiety, not going out and socialising was far from a nightmare for me. I’ve kept this to myself, as it seemed like everyone else was devastated, and not just by the devastating statistics. In some ways, it made me feel like a bad person. Obviously, I would happily take a few anxiety attacks over a global pandemic, but now I can admit that there are parts of lockdown that I actively like. Although I hated the idea at first, online lectures and tutorials have been a hidden blessing for me, as I’ve been able to ‘attend’ more easily; physically going into university is a lot more stressful.
However, it’s a double-edged sword. Once things are ‘back to normal’, whatever that may look like, I know I’m going to struggle to get back to a point where I’m comfortable in normal social settings. And I’m sure I won’t be alone. For some of us, the mental health battles aren’t being fought now, but will be fought in the future while everyone else is getting back to their normal lives. That’s something to remember, and hopefully, something that the people in charge have thought about.
To conclude this rambling, one-sided conversation, there is a desperate need for mental health education for both children and adults, so that people can understand what people might be going through without actually going through it themselves. ‘Reach out and talk to each other’ type campaigns are a start; they are drawing attention to a massive issue and will undoubtedly help many people who are struggling with their mental health while they are alone. However, much more needs to be done to get to the root of the problem. My hope for the future is that this can be something good to come out of the pandemic – a lot of people (including key workers) are going to need a lot of help with their mental health once everything is ‘back to normal’. But then again, what do I know?