What people wish their friends knew about their mental health problem

22 September 2016

Slowly but surely, mental health stigma is decreasing. However, this article will show we’ve still some way to go. We asked people with lived experience of mental health problems what they wish people knew about mental ill-health:

1.    Everybody is different

“We are all unique and I feel people fail to realise that when talking about mental illness”

Mental health problems affect people in different ways. No two people behave or feel exactly the same way when they are unwell. Likewise, there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for mental ill health – medication may work for some, and not for others. The same applies to mindfulness, exercise or talking therapies. 

2.    Feelings can fluctuate

“It ebs and flows like the tide. There is no consistency - sometimes it can be nasty, other times not so bad, but it's constantly nagging at you and always there in the background.”

Dealing with mental health problems is a work in progress. There are ups and downs and these can happen at any time. Just because someone seems well does not mean that they are well...

3.    It’s not a choice

“People also seem to think that mental ill health is some sort of choice. You can't choose not to have mental ill health any more than you can choose not to have cancer...”

Nobody chooses to have a mental health problem, just like people don’t choose to have physical health problems. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can be severe, long-lasting and have a big impact on someone’s life. 

4.    I can’t just “snap out of it”

“People tend to assume that I can ‘snap out of it’ when I feel depressed.”

Mental ill health is complex and can be difficult to deal with, it is not something you just “snap out of”. It takes time to recover from or learn how to manage a mental health problem. 

5.    People experiencing mental health problems are not weak

“Strength and courage that is what keeps us going, though it gets tough at times.”

Mental health problems affect the way people think, feel and behave. They can also experience unpleasant physical symptoms. Managing all of these experiences is a sign of strength and not weakness. 

6.    Mental health and physical health are linked

“The fatigue that comes with it. Nobody seems to understand that it not only affects you emotionally, but physically too”

Living with a mental health problem can affect your physical health too. The physical effects of mental health problems can include tiredness, loss of appetite and aches and pains in the body. In the same way, engaging in exercise can have a positive effect on mental health.

7.    It’s not about feeling sad and happy

“It's not about feeling a wee bit sad, it's debilitating!!!”

Mental health problems vary in nature. They range from the worries we all experience as part of daily life to serious long-term conditions. Living with mental ill health can affect all areas of a person’s life, from carrying out daily tasks to forming healthy relationships.

8.    It may be invisible, but it’s still there

“Although they can't see the illness, it's still there.”

You may not be able to tell by looking at a person that they have a mental health problem. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or is “all in their head”. The effects of mental ill health are very real. 

9.    Self-harm isn’t attention-seeking

“That self-harm isn't for attention.”

Someone may use self-harm as a way of coping with negative thoughts or feelings. Many people who self-harm don’t talk to anyone about what they are going through. Breaking down myths such as these can encourage people who self-harm to talk about their experiences and seek support early. 

‘The truth about self-harm’ covers more information on self-harm and other myths. 

10.    I’m not ‘crazy’   

“I wish people realised that everyone has mental health.”

Just as we can all experience physical ill health, we can also experience mental health problems. 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in any given year. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can recover or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on. Stigmatising language such as this can prevent people from getting the help they need at the right time.

11.    It’s not a reflection on you…

“That if I’m grumpy or uncomfortable around you, don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. I have anxiety, I’m like this around everyone”

Mental health problems can cause people to withdraw, become more irritable or behave differently than usual. It is important to focus on how the person is feeling rather than how they act towards you. Try not to take it personally as it can be a symptom of a mental health problem.

12.    Don’t tear me down

“That people with mental health problems need building up not tearing down. The tearing down is what exacerbates ill health. Be helpful, be a listening ear, be considerate, pose solutions, or simply be quiet, and allow people to try to heal.”

Living with mental health problems can be challenging in itself. It may be difficult to understand why someone may be feeling or behaving a certain way. Regardless, it is important to offer support in a non-judgemental, respectful and caring way. 

13.    Talk to me

“That silence does not mean you don't want to talk”

Just because someone isn’t being vocal doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk. If you see someone going through a hard time, talking to them is often a good step to take. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.

Find out more about mental health problems in our A-Z guide 

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