Content note: mental health, self harm, suicide
Today is yet another well meaning but a bit too cosy to be realistic mental health initiative, #timetotalk. It is admirable yet it doesn’t quite get across how hard talking is. It’s not just stigma, it’s the vulnerability. It’s terrifying to talk about mental health sometimes, to open up and to admit you can’t cope, that you hate yourself, that you hurt yourself, that you want to kill yourself. This is something campaigns like this just don’t quite convey. It’s not as simple as having a cup of tea, it’s opening up at your most vulnerable to people you aren’t sure will understand.Even if they do understand it’s terrifying, it’s like being naked, stripped of any outer shell. As if your skin has been rubbed raw and you’re about to face a salt mist. It’s that feeling of being exposed to something raw and painful. Can you really cope with someone you love telling you they harm themselves or want to kill themselves? Because that’s a possibility. Sometimes you won’t be able to help and it can be painful, frustrating and terrifying. If you can’t cope with that then be careful because if you open up the emotional floodgates of someone vulnerable they might not be able to close them. You might trigger painful thoughts, feelings, harmful behaviours, a panic attack. There might be arguments, tears, fights.
Yes it’s admirable to break down stigma and talk about mental health, it shouldn’t be a taboo subject that you avoid talking about; but at the same time some people just don’t want to or can’t talk bout their mental health sometimes. Sometimes it’s too painful, it can trigger symptoms such as an urge to self harm, suicidal ideation, panic attacks – a whole range of things. So please tread carefully and respect people’s boundaries, if they don’t want to talk don’t make them.
It’s too easy to feel guilted by cries of ‘go on you’ll feel better if you talk about it!’. It can be dangerous to talk if you are not in the right environment, if you don’t feel safe. Sometimes you just can’t talk, I have terrible moods where I can barely string a sentence together, the depression is just so bad I just don’t have the mental and physical strength to hold a conversation.
So whilst I applaud the aims of the campaign it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes talking can be hard, impossibly hard and it can be dangerous to pressurise people into doing something they feel uncomfortable with.
As well as talking you must respect people if they choose to remain silent. No one should be pressured, directly or by more subtle means of emotional manipulation (for example things like ‘you’ll feel better!’, ‘it’ll be good for you!’ are not always as innocent as they seem) into talking. A five minute chat isn’t a pat on the back moment I’ve done my bit thing, talking about mental health issues can be a very, very hard thing for some people and won’t be anything like a nice cosy chat over some digestives.