Mental health: two words we seem hear quite a lot in the press, on social media and in charity/awareness campaigns, but how much progress are we actually making?!
I say that because I’m worried.
I’m worried because this week I found out about the eleventh person I know to have taken their own life this year.
That’s eleven beautiful, kind, caring and vibrant lives gone. Eleven families destroyed. Eleven groups of friends missing one of the gang. The loss goes on, and on, and on.
At first I thought it could be because I know a lot of people and the work I do constantly introduces me to more, so I asked some of my friends and they unfortunately said the same thing – they all know people who have taken their own life recently.
One of the saddest parts I discovered is most of us found out on social media. Scrolling through Facebook you see an influx of condolences, other people sharing memories and paying their respects. It can be tough to find out like this, but it does help to see the ones we lose being remembered. It has the ability to help people through grief.
Life moves so fast nowadays, we’re all so busy being busy. The way we interact with each other is constantly evolving. Technology has changed everything; no wonder a lot of people struggle. It can be a tough world sometimes, and although we’re communicating more than ever, why are so many people lonely?
A lot of people who struggle with their mental health become isolated, lose friends, jobs and relationships. The sad truth is many get cast aside because other people don’t know what’s going on or they get shut out. All I know is people are struggling in silence and that breaks my heart.
What is happening in the LGBTQ community.
It’s no secret the LGBTQ community are more susceptible to mental health problems. When you face battles with your identity, sexuality, coming out, discrimination and inequality, it can take a huge toll. But seeing the statistics and how many are attempting to end their life, I wasn’t prepared for that. It’s horrific.
A shocking two out of six young LGBTQ people attempt suicide. Two out of six. Let that sink in. We are failing these children. If we don’t speak up and demand more education around mental health, who will? It’s time kids were taught about mental health in schools.
There’s the devastating story of Jamel Myles. Jamel was just 9 years old. He took his own life after being bullied at school for being gay, just days after opening up and telling his story.
In the trans community eight out of 10 trans young people have self-harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK with 84 taking their own life every week.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem each year. We need to keep the conversation flowing and normalise people talking about it. Far too many people feel like they can’t be truly open about how they’re feeling. We need to continue to send a loud and clear message that it’s ok not to be ok.
Mental health awareness is so much more than just one day or week a year. It’s each and every day.
What can you do.
When someone you know is acting differently, going into themselves and not their usual self, reach out, let them know you care. Try not to judge and jump to conclusions. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to admit you’re struggling. A little bit of kindness can go a long way.
Never underestimate the power of a random text or call. We’re all so busy being busy, we forget to check in with our friends and family. Even the strong ones, because they need support too. That bit of contact and support might make their day. It might not, but at least they know someone is thinking about them. Loneliness can make you doubt if people even see you, so make sure your people know you ‘see’ them.
Stop labelling ‘friends’ as overly negative or toxic and actually find out what’s going on. Too many people who struggle with their mental health get cast aside. If they’re truly your friend, get to the root of the problem. If you don’t care enough to do that, just move on.
Improving your mental health.
If, like me, you struggle with your mental health sometimes, just remind yourself there are good days, and there are bad days. It does get better. If you need support, ask for it. There’s no shame in getting help.
Surround yourself with people who lift you higher, who let you be yourself without judgement and accept you for who you are. You’d be surprised how freeing it is to be surrounded by people good for your mental health. Your circle has a bigger impact on you than you could ever imagine.
Make sure the relationship you have with yourself is healthy, too. Of all the people you speak to yourself more than anyone, make sure you’re saying the right things.
‘Not everyone finds it easy to share their struggles in life, but we all have them.’
From my own experience I know how debilitating anxiety and depression can be and how fast it can manifest. When that black cloud gathers it can be so easy to shut yourself away from the world, thinking you’re doing other people a favour by shutting them out. Cancelling plans, letting down friends and becoming a recluse.
I really struggled with my mental health this year. After a series of events in my personal and family life I found myself isolated and shut away from the world. I had no social life and everything was just numb. All I did was work and that was hard to keep up with. But I got through it. I reached out and spoke to someone, had the support of a few good friends, and I’m in a completely different place now.
So I know how hard it is. I know what it’s like to feel like you have no one. But I also know when you’re ready and willing to make changes it does get better. You have to put in some work but it’s worth it. It’s so very worth it.
Things to remember.
It doesn’t matter how much money you earn, where you live or what you do for a living, we all get down and we all get low points. Mental health doesn’t discriminate. Anxiety, depression and mental health issues can affect us all.
Struggling with your mental health does not make you weak. Living life, showing up and being present with anxiety and depression takes so much strength.
Your mental health is worth more than any amount of money, any job, any relationship, and is just as important as your physical health.
Above everything, remember it’s ok not to be ok. I know it gets said a lot, but it does get better. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right help, with the right people by your side you can come out the other side stronger than ever.
Follow Tom on Twitter – @TJ_Knight
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this opinion piece, there is always someone who can listen and help.
If you’re worried about depression, or want to talk about any other issues, Switchboard LGBT+ helpline are here to listen. You can read all about them on their website, switchboard.lgbt, and you can phone them on 0300 330 0630 between 10am-11pm every day.
LGBT charity Stonewall also have a section on their website full of advice and plenty of other information at stonewall.org.uk/help-advice