This time last year was a major lifetime landmark as I ‘came out’ to close friends and family, that I had a mental health problem. And I compare it to an LGBT outing for many reasons:
1. People ask if you are sure, because ‘you seem so normal’.
2. People start to treat you differently because you have ‘that label’
3. People think you need to start acting differently to properly be ‘that label’
4. Most people just don’t understand it, although they think they do.
5. It’s more stressful to explain to people who love you than to complete strangers.
The catalyst for the Outing was the Time to Talk campaign. Organised by Time to Change, the campaign’s main objective was to encourage people to talk about mental health. The aim was to reduce the mental health stigma that isolates so many people and prevents them from seeking help. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but took the plunge anyway. I did it by announcing to close family and friends on Facebook that I had an eating disorder.
On the whole, coming out mentally was probably one of the most liberating things I have ever done. And over the last year I have had many conversations with some of those close friends and family and their own mental health. People who, like me, felt isolated and alone with their problems. Little did we all know there were people close at hand who loved us and continued to love us despite our labels.
On the anniversary of this event I decided to be a little braver and do something for all my Facebook friends, acquaintances and followers. This would have included colleagues, those friends that you only meet in certain social situations, members of clubs or groups etc. Because of the way I use Facebook, this tripled the number of people I would talk to compared to last year. And I did it in a way that enabled all of them to get involved and raise their hand anonymously. I recognised that sometimes just being bold and admitting it to anybody meant truly admitting it to yourself and that for many this could be a lifeline.
I created an anonymous survey that asked very simple questions:
1. Have you ever experienced any of the following mental health problems?
And the problems were listed. As many as I could find. I also had ‘other’ where people could list the ones I would inevitably miss and a final ‘I’ve never had a mental health problem’ for those that wanted to take part. If anything, they could see the list of issues and challenge their own attitudes over what mental illness actually is.
2. Did you seek help from a Health Care Professionals?
The responses were yes, no and ‘never had a mental health problem’. I wanted to share the totals afterwards. I knew there would be people who had not sought help. And if I suggested the reason was fear and stigma, maybe it would help others that have never had a mental health problem stop and think.
3. Are you male or female?
Suicide is also the biggest killer of young men in the US and the UK. My personal belief is that this is because Mental Health is much more of a taboo with men. Men need to know that Mental Illness does not discriminate and if they are struggling there is help available for them. They should not feel ashamed to ask for it.
4. Feel free to add your thoughts on Mental Health
This question was optional but I did get 2 responses to it:
can be the biggest ghost of all areas within health, mental wellbeing is something that is not invested in to help prevent mental health, to me mental health is the hidden killer of society
My mum has suffered with depression, paranoia and anxiety for years and i have had to talk to her often about it
For me this cut through the data and personalised the experiences.
5. If you suffered a mental health problem, where did you seek help?
This was similar to question 2 but I also wanted to highlight to people the many sources of help that people could turn to. I listed several possibilities including mental health charities. Charities like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can be a wealth of online information and also individual support to many people who need a little encouragement to make that first step. Or at least they were to me.
I got 14 responses to the survey. I don’t know how many other people looked at the questions, but I shared the results. For some of people, it may have been the first time they had admitted their mental heath problems. I don’t know who answered the questions on my survey, I just know that they were my my friends. And I hope they recognise now that they are not alone.