As part of Mental Health Awareness week, I’m publishing a series of blogs telling the story of someone. This could be someone who suffers or someone who’s trying to help others.
In this final edition I talk to someone who doesn’t suffer from mental illness at all. He’s someone who wants to getter better understanding of it so he can help and offer support. We need more people like him in the world.
This is the story of Sean.
Would you like to say a few things about yourself?
Thanks for asking me to participate. A little about me? Middle aged, easy going bloke, live in Cheshire, love live music, run my own business and according to medical opinion, spend too much time at the bar. Seems I’ve inadvertently started a lonely hearts advert!
Around three years ago, I made a conscious effort to learn more about mental health issues. Not because I suffer with any problems, I’m a lucky guy in that respect. I’d recently learned that a person I hold very dear suffered from depression and, having read many of Ginger Wildheart’s brutally honest public statements relating to his own battles, I’d figured that the very least I could do would be to try and understand mental health.
So, what do you think you’ve learned so far in this voyage of discovery?
Huge amounts, I had no idea just how varied and widespread mental health issues are. And I’m learning more all the time. Possibly the hardest part about understanding mental health from the perspective of a non-sufferer though, is that you have next to no ability to empathise with people and friends who do suffer. I’ve sprained my ankle so I can have a degree of empathy with someone who has broken a leg. Sure, there’s a big difference between the two, but I can begin to have an inkling of what the person with a broken leg must be feeling. How can I possibly empathise with someone who may be feeling suicidal, or who may be experiencing a complete absence of feeling and emotion? I’ve never experienced anything like that in all my life. And therein, I think, lies one of the major issues stopping mental health being a deservedly higher priority for everyone. If the majority can’t even begin understand it, how can they possibly be aware of how incredibly destructive it can be?
So, now that you’ve started becoming more aware of mental health issues, what do you think you’ve noticed since then? How have you been able to react?
Looking back, the main thing I really do notice is how reluctant people are to talk about their issues. There’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a stigma, albeit unwarranted, attached to admitting to struggling with mental health. Understandably, that makes broaching the subject a very sensitive matter. As I’ve learned more about mental health, I’m able to spot some of the more obvious signs of a person struggling. One of the best ways I’ve found of letting people open up to me is through music and in particular Ginger’s “Toxins and Tea” A conversation about music, and songwriters and favourite lyrics, whilst not necessarily the most subtle route, let’s a person know I’m on their side.
As I read that back, it comes across as slightly patronising and simplistic, as though I’m some sort of fairy godmother, there to wave a magic wand and make everything better. I’m profoundly aware that this is most certainly not the case and sincerely hope that others like me understand that there’s no quick fix or magic bullet.
Back to the original question, how have I been able to react? I’ve been able to let my friends know that I’m there for them, that they can talk to me about their problems and that I will never, ever judge them.
I think that being there for people is all we can really ask for, to be honest. Just in closing then as I know you’re a busy guy at the moment, is there anything you’d like to say? How do you think we can encourage people to open up if they’re suffering or even take a step forward to help promote a better understanding?
I’d hope more people would find it easier to open up and find help if they could be sure of an understanding audience. So in that respect, I want everyone who doesn’t suffer and doesn’t understand what mental health is really about, to take a bit of time out and familiarise themselves with how devastating it can actually be to suffer. In an age of celebrity, social media and instant communication, the more “big names” who talk openly and honestly about mental health, the better, particularly for the younger generation.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, hopefully this can be of use to someone, somewhere!
I would like to thank everyone who’s taken part in these chats through the week: Chris, Jane, Julie, Louise, Dave, Vikki and Sean. They’ve been wonderful in coming forward to tell me what they’ve gone through. Thank you also to everyone who’s taken their time to read these posts this week as well as to everyone who’s shared them.
I think we’ve only just scratched at the surface of these tales. We’ve only just begun to start making people aware. We don’t know what goes on in the mind of the person sitting across from us. We don’t know what struggles they’re going through. We don’t know what help they can offer our what help they might need. All we can do is keep telling our stories, to make sure we help educate as many people as we can.
I’m still going to carry on telling my story, and I’ll still carry on telling the story of anyone who wants me to. Little by little we can make a change to ourselves and each other.