Paul Devlin: Is mental health an elephant in your room?

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You may remember TV adverts about first aid in response to physical ill health. Vinnie Jones’ heart resuscitation to “Stayin’ alive” is a good example!

But would you know what to do if a friend or a family member experienced an episode of mental ill health? Do you think you’d have the confidence to approach them and talk openly in the same way you would if it was a physical health problem?

Unfortunately, mental health carries a lot of stigma, even though anyone can experience common mental health problems.

One in four people at some point in their life will suffer from depression, anxiety or stress. That might include you. And if not, will likely include someone you know.

But mental health can still be an “elephant in the room” – we know it is there, but just don’t know how to deal with it.

Do we say something? Should we ask about it, or not ask? Should we just pretend that nothing is happening?

This year’s World Mental Health Day on October 10 may be a chance to talk openly about something you have been avoiding.

I know that when I feel depressed, anxious or stressed, it can be hard to find the words to tell someone else.

Sometimes just asking “How are you?” or “Are you okay?” can be a start to a life changing conversation. Though, of course, if your friend or loved one doesn’t want to talk right now, don’t press them.

Let them know that you’re there to listen, whenever they are ready to talk.

The way we act around someone with mental ill health can have a significant impact on their recovery.

Feelings such as isolation, shame or worthlessness are too often experienced by people with mental ill health, and the way in which we respond to them can help reduce these feelings.

We should not be afraid to speak about our problems. For some, talking to a family member or a friend may be a good start. For others, it may be easier to talk with a professional first. That’s why anyone can self-refer to our steps2change NHS talking therapies service, and for many, seeing your GP may also be a first step on the recovery journey.


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