Updated: Nov 27, 2020
There has been a lot of activity in the media and government health promotions about starting conversations about mental health.
This is a huge step forward for society and the thus far stigmatised reality of living with poor mental health. There are more and more social media "shares" about being kind, reaching out and glimpses into the world of depression, anxiety and loneliness.
I am currently unable to honestly answer the "How are you?" question (I have spoken about this in my post "I'm Fine"), and until recently I have come down hard on myself for this. I viewed it as a weakness, which is so interesting given that poor mental health was, and often still is, looked down upon as a weakness of character.
I couldn't understand why I was suddenly expected to share my innermost pains with anybody who showed a genuine and concerned interest.
But then it began to dawn on me that perhaps the message that is being spread is accidentally misguided.
Perhaps we don't all want to talk about our mental health. Perhaps it is so hard to do so that it could cause more harm than good to attempt to spill our guts. Perhaps, still, the response we will get is lacking in comfort or insight which will only deepen the sense of isolation and the silent scream in our hearts.
I do believe in starting conversations and showing genuine interest in people's well being, but for many (not all), the dialogues that mean the most are the frequent and regular ones. The content of those interactions is, most times, irrelevant. Personally, I am happiest when I am sharing life's general gripes and complaints with similar minded friends and family. I feel cherished when another human being cares enough about me to just say say "hi" or feels comfortable enough to say "urgghh you won't believe what happened to me today."
To me this is enough to brighten even the darkest of days, and to be honest, can pull my mind out of itself for a few minutes.
A very dear friend of mine once pointed out that is all very well to believe that a person will always be there if things get tough, but how will that person know if things are starting to get tough unless there is a rapport and regular mutual bitching? (I added that last bit, she is not one to bitch).
This is not to say that I am so self absorbed that I expect everybody I know to constantly make conversation with me. After all, the whole point here is that we all have our own ways of coping with life and should not be expected to chit chat to everybody that we meet, just because we feel we have some sort of responsibility for everybody else's happiness. Trust me folks, that is a thorny journey to embark upon.
So do talk. Talk about the constant bloody rain, the ridiculous cost of school uniform (mini rant there), the fact that your kids are driving you nuts. And if the other person wants to share their mental health struggles, then great! A huge positive. But if they seem to be holding back, or are somewhat hostile when asked about their "real" feelings, please do not be discouraged or give up on trying to help. You are there, you are talking, you are listening. Thank you for caring.