The reality is that 1 in 4 people will be affected by their mental health at some point in their life. The World Health Organisation states that nearly two-thirds of people suffering from a known mental disorder never seek professional help.
‘Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.’ – WHO
Today, on World Mental Health Day, we want to talk about how we can all help to remove the stigma that’s attached to something that affects so many of us on the day to day. As you can likely guess, we’re not professionals, so we reached out to our friend David Darvasi, a professional counsellor, to put together a list of things any one can do to improve your mental health and the conversations that surrounds it.
Think of it as Health
Using the term ‘mental health’ is helpful, in that it makes it more straightforward to talk about specific aspects of our experience and emphasise the importance of it. However, on a day to day basis, it might be easier to simply think of it as health. We now know that our emotional experience is intertwined with our physical well-being. Whenever you go through loss, experience anxiety, have relationship difficulties, or whatever it may be, it impacts you as a whole.
By taking time to pay attention to your emotional experience, you’re inevitably doing something good for your body and overall physical health too. If you begin to think of it like that, instead of needing to set a reminder to listen to that mindfulness app you downloaded, looking after your mental health starts to become an integral part of a conscious, healthy lifestyle.
Take Pauses in Your Seeking
Western pop culture tells us that we should constantly be on the lookout for new experiences, and strive to be our ‘best’ selves. Whilst it is important you nourish the part of you that yearns to discover and be out of its comfort zone, that kind of constant seeking can result in you feeling like nothing is ever quite enough – including you. With that outlook, your life can become solely about seeking; and you can get lost in the act of doing that. It is then easy to lose touch with what you’re actually after. By paying a bit more attention to where you are and how you feel rather than where you want to be and how you want to feel, you can gradually reconnect with yourself and what’s most important to you.
Listening is Therapeutic (for Both Sides)
Due to the fast pace of modern living and the multiple devices we surround ourselves with, our attention can become fragmented, and listening in an open way becomes a real challenge. The impact of this can be most felt in the relationships that mean the most to us. We confuse hearing with listening. Hearing is essentially data collection, and it can be useful when we need to respond quickly to a situation at work, but it can undermine intimacy with a person we love. Listening involves an element of actually taking in what you’re hearing, to let what you hear impact you. Lending an ear and giving space to your friend without rushing to fill in that space with advice or reassurance can feel therapeutic for both of you. Besides, by becoming more supportive, you also get a bit of time off your own struggles.
Connect Through Your Vulnerability
Good times and being happy have become a sort of mantra, and everyone wants to have just that, and at the snap of a finger. All of the people you follow on Instagram seem to be better looking than ever, hanging out in dreamy places with interesting people, eating gorgeous looking food. No wonder it’s hard to feel connected at times! Scrolling through it all, of course you end up colluding with the idea that “living life to the full” somehow means that you need to be happy all the time.
But we’re human. We experience fear, anxiety, hurt and loss. It’s harder to acknowledge these experiences as, inevitably, we feel lonelier when we do. Our bodies end up holding onto the pain that we ignore, and it becomes an undercurrent that’s always there. It’s easy to develop a fearful attitude to pain, and with that, we isolate ourselves even more. Try consciously checking in with yourself to see how you’re feeling as you go through your day. It’s not a thought exercise as such, so try to be patient as it may take some time for you to reconnect with your body that way. Then, seek and nurture connections with people where being vulnerable feels safe.
Living life to the full is to be open to all sorts of experiences. You might even find that happiness occurs naturally when you feel connected.
As published on The Modern blog by Grana.
I remember a person walking into the charity where I worked a couple of years ago, fleeing from his country where he had to face torture and the prospect of marrying a woman even though he identified as a gay man. He said to me, ‘I just can’t believe that there’s a place here just for us’. He then made telling remarks of how hard his life been as a gay man when he said ‘the only thing is that the rainbow flag above the door is too colourful’. He concluded that ‘it’s just too cheery for what it represents’.
People who are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including non-binary genders and people who are in relationship structures that are non-monogamous, need to be supported with awareness and acceptance. In an ideal world a service where LGBTQ+ people experience a sense of safety wouldn’t need to be a specialist service. However, from listening to clients it is unsettlingly clear to me how often they feel unheard and misunderstood in services that are not LGBTQ+ aware. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though, as we’ve had decades of pathologising people on that spectrum even, or especially so, in mental health literature and services.
Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders in 1973, it was only in 1986 that all references to homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder were removed. This came following the hard work of lots of committed individuals who dared to challenge the status quo. Progress often takes a painfully long time and we know all too well that the complex issue of oppression wasn’t gone by making changes to a psychiatric manual. The trauma of maltreatment has had a lasting impact.
We also need to remember that people who enter these services are often from countries where revealing their gender and sexual identities can cost them their lives or put them at risk of being tortured, abused and imprisoned. The research paper by the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association that was published just last year was a crucial reminder of how widespread the problem still really is. It reported that in 74 countries same sex sexual contact is a criminal offence. It further stated that in 13 countries, being gay or bisexual is punishable by death. Let alone countries where LGBTQ+ people continue to experience violence. Whilst the report was focused on gay, lesbian and bisexual rights, it is strongly believed that similar laws and practices are targeting the Trans communities as well. Seeing the letters of ‘LGBTQ’ or one of its variations in an institution often gives an instant sense of relief to those who are yearning for a safe place.
Whilst I feel privileged to be able to talk to people and learn from them it is a shame that so little is still being taught on sexual and gender diversity on counselling and psychotherapy training courses. Most colleagues I talk to have barely, if that, had a workshop on the subject of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. So it is no wonder we end up with support services with well-meaning mental health practitioners who are completely unaware of the struggles LGBTQ+ people experience.
Some argue that services that are exclusive in their support of people of sexual and gender minorities further a division in society. I would argue that inevitably a division is already there and we cannot effectively support people by alluding to the oblivious notion that every service is for everyone. Living in a society where everything often feels exclusively heteronormative people who in their identities and/or practices fall outside of that need to be seen and heard. LGBTQ+ services need to exist to respond to the needs and safety of many and we need to stay vigilant in continuing the work for a more whole and integrated society.
Services in London:
East London Out Project
As published on welldoing.org