How to open up about mental health problems
The first steps to getting the mental health help you suspect you need, by film-maker and mental health campaigner, Phoebe Torrance.
A lot of people don’t realise such a huge step in actually getting better is realising that you have something you need to address. Getting healthy requires you to have a look at every aspect of your being – not just body, you have to listen to your mind, your spirituality… yourself as a whole. Mental health is individual, finding what makes you feel better isn’t one size fits all. Every person will develop a variety of methods to work on themselves or understanding their mind which is totally personal. However, the key factor which can help everyone with mental health issues is the need to open up to someone. Yet that is not easy, it can be the last thing you want to do in fact. With that in mind, here are are my thoughts on how to open up, and help other people do so too…
1. Acknowledging the problem
We all have coping mechanisms to deal with the traumas in our lives, and the way these things manifest is completely individual and can be totally undetectable. Sometimes it’s actually easier to spot these actions in other people, whether they’re drinking more than usual, not replying to your messages, not seeing anyone, being aggressive to people when they wouldn’t normally, risky drug use and overall reckless behaviour.
For me, it took years to pinpoint my behaviours, which were a result of a continuous spiralling feeling inside me. Maybe because I didn’t want to admit I had a problem, it’s so much easier to hide and pretend everything is fine. But mostly it was because I didn’t want to change. It is simple to disconnect from your reality and use these coping mechanisms to feel better short term – the problem with doing this is how painful it can be to go back to the reality of how you really feel. These personal disconnects we have within ourselves when we try to escape can really affect us on such a deeper and long-lasting level, as they remain hidden. It’s not easy to detect these unless you’re looking, and getting up that nerve to look within yourself takes courage. These mechanisms become so habitual that they become a part of us and therefore it’s even more difficult to recognise and change them.
When you realise that there is something you want to confront and change in yourself, then in turn your actions need to follow suit! It is the only way to truly start your recovery journey. The best way to do that is to talk, if you don’t want to speak to your parents or loved ones (I promise you they would want to help but I know how hard this can be, and it doesn’t need to be the first step) then you can head to your GP who can recommend you to a therapist on the NHS. Or you can even talk to someone online, there are a bunch of apps to help, and wonderful helplines like Hopeline (Papyrus), Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) or Samaritans!
2. Making the leap for others
Speaking to loved ones who you’re worried about can take even more courage, with the fear of them pushing you away as a result of you calling out their behaviour. But the fact is, in the long run, calling out these destructive tendencies can actually change that person’s life, and cause a chain reaction within themselves to strive to check in and see what their body needs and how they can help. In the end, they’ll thank you for making that leap for them.
Noticing these signs might be easier when you’re focused on someone else but talking to them about it is a tricky journey. It is one which needs to be normalised. And the only way for it to become more normal is talking about it and then practising it! One of the best things I learned when I did my Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is so simple but something not many take the time to do in our rushed lives, and that is to LISTEN. We don’t listen to each other enough. Not just verbally but visually too: if you look closely you can see so much with body language. I think we get so caught up in assuming that we can’t solve someone’s worries that actually we forget we don’t have to have an answer for everything. Being a person to listen and truly allow that person to open up to you is more than enough.
Opening up about yourself and your emotions is a great way to begin the conversation. The fact that anybody should feel uncomfortable telling a friend or family member how they feel is so heartbreaking, so if everyone reading this made that attempt to open up and in return let your cared one open up to you, it would make a huge difference.
3. The importance of therapy
Now therapy has a bad rep. In movies and in our everyday culture it’s still a little frowned upon. But it’s the best thing I ever did for my mental health. Understanding how your brain works, why you acted how you did and having the ability to think back on your childhood – the events which have formed you into who you are, figuring it all out – really helped me with an understanding about my behaviour and a way to curate how I act in future events. There are many different types of therapists, which provides an opportunity to find the right person for you – I tried three different therapists before I found the one who helped me. Our brains are complex things which actually need a lot of work and attention to detail to keep on a track which is right for you, and professional help can make a huge difference.
4. Seek to understand your psyche
There are so many different ways to calm or understand your psyche; whether that be therapy, books, meditation, podcasts, writing, or exercise. Some great books which have transformed my way of thinking are Matt Haig’s and The Four Agreements written by Don Miguel Ruiz. Matt Haig’s posts always help me. It’s not easy to talk about your feelings as a guy, and I completely understand it – I see it with my brother, my father and some of my male friends. Men think they’re not allowed to feel, to discuss emotions and publicly open up. We need to show the younger generation that we can do it and it’s strong to do it. Personally, I think it’s refreshing and attractive when a guy opens up or cries about something, whatever it’s about! Toxic ideas about hiding emotions needs to stop, and all it takes is a couple of people in social groups to step out and say ‘Hey, it’s okay to talk about this’. Banter can block emotion, covering up how we feel, and for some this huge denial within themselves makes them strike out and humiliate others – a typical bully technique.
5. Try Headspace
Meditation can be tricky. Attention spans in our current climate are decreasing, so it’s all the more important it is to learn to take those moments to debrief yourself. A fantastic thing that helped me was the Headspace meditation app. They also do work around exercising: the mindful guided runs which Headspace and Nike joined forces for, are a great way to get into the swing of a more tranquil and beneficial run.
6. Don’t dismiss attention seeking
I grew up in a family filled with love and total transparency, or so I thought. Even though we told each other everything, the emotional turmoil was hidden, the serious things were shoved under a rug, because that’s how English culture is. It’s so difficult to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. For many years I didn’t understand my mental anguish: how could I possibly feel this way when I have such a great family who loved me? I didn’t understand and neither did my family! We weren’t taught anything about it at school either, which tormented my mental state even more. I criticised myself, and the way I would shut out the screaming going on inside my head ended up manifesting as self harming and an eating disorder.
If you suspect a loved one is using coping mechanisms like an eating disorder, how do you approach it? For me, I don’t think anyone could have said anything to help or change the fate of my actions, but when I did open up about it and the more I talked about it, the more I realised what damage I was doing to my body, the shock of losing my period, the worry for not being able to have kids… My advice would be, as I mentioned before, for YOU to open up to them, to let them know it is a safe, nonjudgmental space and that it’s healthy to understand why you might be doing certain things. For me, a lot of the disorder was about control – people don’t realise that it’s not always about wanting to be ‘skinny’, it is about the independence and control it gives you.
Whenever I had a huge self-harm mark, nobody brought it up. And if they did, I’d lie, and nobody would questions it. It’s such a tricky thing – how on earth do we know if someone is doing something for attention or if they really need help? Well, that’s a bloody trick question because if someone is doing something for attention then guess what they need: ATTENTION! It needs to be something which is recognised, not judged.
7. The problems and solutions of food
I think people don’t realise the impact of food on your mind. Yes everybody knows to be ‘healthy’ you have to be a bit mindful about what you eat but as a recovering/recovered anorexic/bulimic (I say both recovered and recovering because I sadly think it is something I’m going to be stuck with, even if it is the tiniest amount) I have realised that the food you give to your body is fuel for the mind as well. Personally I believe diets are harmful for your body; the connection you view food shouldn’t be altered to ‘bad foods’ and ‘good foods’. Everything in moderation is healthy. Even the good stuff in excess ends up being bad for you! But if you eat a meal which is beneficial for your body, I promise it’s gonna soothe your mind too.
Overall mental health is a serious subject that has lacked a conversation for a long time, I’m so glad that people are beginning to talk and take a second to see how they really feel about things. There is a huge difference between being selfish for your well being and jusy being selfish. Taking a second to understand that you might not be able to do something because it will affect your wellbeing takes courage and it is up to us to make that distinction, and respect those around us who are brave enough to be strong and true to themselves. Our job is to live honestly and encourage it in our friends, family and loved ones.
An amazing quote which always helps me is by Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
We are so much more than our struggles. What makes us human and imperfect is beautiful. We are all on this journey together, and by helping and healing ourselves and those around us, we can make our path so much easier.
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