Listening to Bryony Gordon’s podcast ‘Mad World’ (see link below) was real food for thought. She and Prince Harry discussed his psychological problems following years of avoidance of thinking about and feeling grief after his mother’s death. I applaud his honesty, I think it takes great courage for anyone to be open about their internal struggles, but especially someone who is in the public spotlight. Listening to their conversation brought me back to a question I have revisited many times over the years, “Why don’t we feel able to ask for help when we’re struggling? ”
Of course the answer is not straightforward. There has traditionally been huge stigma around the issue of mental health problems, no-one wanting to be seen as 'mad' or fearing being institutionalised. This has prevented many from speaking up. But even when we attempt to talk to those we trust and whose opinions we value, we may have heard something along the lines of "stop feeling sorry for yourself”, or “pull your socks up”. Often we are left with a sense that mental health problems are not legitimate or real in the same sense that physical health problems are. We feel ashamed that we aren’t able to cope when everyone else seems absolutely fine (social media plays a big role in this). Surely we should be able to just get over it? No. The fact is psychological problems are real. One in four of us will experience mental health problems during our lifetime. Depression is a leading cause of disability and premature death worldwide. It is real. It happens.
I wonder though whether another reason we don’t ask for help is in part what perpetuates our problems? Avoidance. If we don’t admit to ourselves how much we’re struggling, if we just keep going and don’t allow ourselves to dwell on those niggling thoughts and doubts, then maybe it will be OK. If we work harder, drink more alcohol, eat less, sleep all day, become even better at everything we do, just cope in all those ways we’ve always coped (insert YOUR strategy here) – maybe those feelings will go away. After all, if we start to talk about it surely we’ll only feel worse?
Avoidance of thinking and feeling often stops us from taking the first step to receiving help – whether that be talking to a friend or family member, making a GP appointment, calling a crisis line, or even finding yourself on a psychologists website.... In the podcast, Bryony Gordon says “no-one ever got better from a mental health problem without talking about it”. I think she’s right.