Talking about mental health – why do we avoid it?

It’s Monday morning – on Saturday night you had a panic attack for the first time – which left you feeling terrified. Your worst fear? – it might happen again

You struggle into work – everyone is chatting about their weekend. Someone went to a great birthday party, someone got a new dog, someone’s car broke down. Someone had a toothache and had to go to the emergency dentist. “Oh no, that sounds awful”, “Poor you – toothache is so bad”, “How are you now – do you need anything?”  Much sympathy is given. We all know and hate toothache!

You say nothing about what happened to you. You mumble something vague and get away with not mentioning the panic attack.

Why?

It felt like the worst thing that has ever happened to you – you thought you were going to die, you are terrified it will happen again, it ruined your weekend and left you barely able to eat or sleep – but you are pretending it never happened – how come?

This is stigma in action. This is shame doing its work. This is fear and ignorance striding boldly across your life.

  • You are deeply ashamed of it
  • You are absolutely terrified of it happening to you again
  • You feel you desperately need help but dare not ask for it.
  • You aim to push through this, ignore it, everything will be alright, it was nothing
  • Just keep going at work, cover it up
  • You feel like you are going mad
  • No one must know about it
  • You must do everything to hide it – especially at work
  • If anyone finds out it will be the end of you and your career
  • Only “crazy people” have panic attacks
  • Your wages are essential to pay the mortgage
  • You can’t afford to take any time off work
  • You must look normal at all costs.

This isn’t going to end well is it?

Yet if you had had a toothache (like your colleague), or tonsillitis, or cut yourself shaving, or had been stung by a wasp – you would have shared this with everyone on Monday morning, wouldn’t you?

We still struggle to talk about our mental health and wellbeing and this is only making things worse.

We hide our mental health problems, symptoms, worries, concerns. And then of course we don’t get any care, sympathy, support and, most importantly, treatment.

What are our fears?

We talk about our teeth, our stomachs, our feet, our eyes, our chests etc, when they go “wrong”. Why can’t we talk about our brains and mind when it needs some help? Our brain is part of us. Mental illnesses have many physical manifestations – yet somehow in our society the stigma keeps us silent and struggling alone. The stigma means that many people – especially men under 50,would literally rather end their lives than talk about what is happening and get the treatment they need. This goes some way to explain why suicide is the leading cause of death amongst men under 50,  and women under 34. Not cancer, not road traffic accidents – suicide.

It needn’t be like that.

What if, at work, you had gone in on Monday and explained what had happened – in a workplace where people were not only non-judgemental about mental health conditions, but were also trained to help? They could give you the understanding care, support and the reassurance that you desperately needed. And then they could help you get the treatment you needed, support you to recover and reduce all your anxiety about your anxiety!

This isn’t a dream scenario. Many workplaces are now providing training for their staff to be trained as mental health first aiders.Yes – just as your colleague with toothache might have been supported by a physical health first aider if they needed it, you would be supported by a mental health first aider. It makes complete sense. 1 in 6 workers will experience mental health problems. We know this – now we need to act on that knowledge.

Our workplaces can be places where anyone needing support can get it, whether that is support, understanding, time off to recover, reasonable adjustments. More importantly, our workplaces, where we spend many hours of our lives, can be places of compassionate understanding.

Unlock Your Wellbeing provides this Mental Health First Aid training and can make this a reality.

Mental illness is an “equal opportunities” kind of beast – it can affect people at all levels – the good news is you can be prepared and skilledto make a positive difference.

Interested in finding out more about MHFA Training for you or your organisation? Contact us – [email protected] or call 07963 733 328.  We are based in Berkshire and work in the surrounding areas.

***If you need someone to talk to because you are experiencing any of the issues in this article please contact the Samaritans. A completely confidential and non judgemental place to talk about what is REALLY going on in your life. Call 116 123 – freephone number. 24/7, every day of the year.

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