Talking about mental health

By LAUREN STEVENS

Nowadays many of us live a large part of our lives on social media. In some ways, this technology is hindering the discussion about mental health, and in other ways it is aiding it. It isn’t so easy to initiate this discussion on platforms in which we are forced to compare our everyday with everybody else’s highlight reels, and talking online removes the humanity of it all.

It’s easy to say things that we may not necessarily say in person and later regret it, or just ignore a message when it wouldn’t be as easy to do so in a direct conversation. Due to the preference for online discussions, and also because of the shame and stigma attached to mental health as a result of its nature as a taboo topic, many of us may avoid face-to-face conversations about mental health. An inability to cope with anything other than positivity and the expectation of relationships to solely be uplifting, which perhaps stem from social media, makes it easier to just ignore problems rather than address them.

It’s very hard even when someone contacts us and isn’t flexible about the time or place or talking or meeting, or has some benefit for themselves in mind. Even if someone isn’t ready to talk, it’s still worthwhile to make ourselves available for them regardless of the circumstances.

Not having someone to talk to or feeling rejected can be very damaging for those with mental health issues, for example it may lead to suicidal feelings. I think that problems and disagreements are normal parts of life and any kind of relationship, but we lack the resources to manage them healthily.

On the other hand, thanks to technology we are able to communicate with those we may not otherwise come across, develop international communities, or get support by anonymously participating in forum discussions with people on the other side of the world.

The development of technology has helped our lives in many ways, but life has also become so much more complicated than it used to be.

Sometimes I feel like I should have been born several decades earlier. In the past, therapy or methods of psychological support were limited, and thus the older generation often look upon mental health issues with skepticism, perhaps because they consider the current generation as weaker than their own. Maybe this perceived weakness is inevitable due to so many resources being readily available nowadays, and the fear of offending or being politically correct that comes alongside discussions on social media.

I had my first job running a small Subway booth store at the age of 16, and I look at today’s 16-year-old and struggle to imagine them in a similar situation.

We live in a world in which objects are designed to be thrown away or replaced rather than fixed when something goes wrong, and sadly I believe that is impacting attitudes towards relationships.

With terms such as ‘ghosting’ (disappearing from contact without any explanation at all) or ‘cushioning’ (flirting with others whilst being in a relationship to cushion the blow of your potential breakup and not leave you alone), I’m not really surprised why this generation lacks coping mechanisms.

I guess it’s easy to conclude that someone is ghosting us when they are just busy or forget to reply to a message. Then again, nasty behaviour shouldn’t be easily excused. It would be a lot less painful to directly know that someone doesn’t want us in their life, rather than to wait around for a possible response, or get cut out completely out of the blue without explanation. In a way, perhaps these people need sympathy if they don’t have the capacity to deal with problems and would rather ignore them.

Yet, I think rejection is something that we all have to deal with, because it’s not possible to say ‘yes’ all the time, and it’s normal to prioritise by having to accept something whilst rejecting something else.

However, if someone frequently makes bad excuses, or false promises and doesn’t follow them through, and continuously rejects us, then it can be hurtful, and I think it’s better not to make any excuses or promises at all.

None of us are perfect and we can’t all follow through with our promises, but it’s important to try our very best to really be careful and think about our promises so that we can actually keep them.

I try not to use ‘too busy’ or ‘not enough time’ when talking to people, because we are all busy in our own ways, and we all have the same amount of physical time, it’s just about priorities. If we really want to do something, we’ll find time to make it happen.

The best things in life come with risks and knowing the possibility of rejection. I think in order to have any kind of meaningful relationship we have a show at least some vulnerability or need towards the other person and have it reciprocated.

Everybody has needs, standards, expectations and boundaries. In my experience, things become problematic when people’s standards aren’t clearly communicated, two people have incompatible standards, or their standards have changed over time.

I believe than many of the recurring problems we face may originate from the past, and they will continue to repeat themselves until we deal with them. I’m trying to be active in getting support for feelings of rejection because I know it’s something I can’t deal with very well, and I’m fairly sure that it originates from situations in my past.

For many, it’s easier to ignore a problem for fear of addressing which may lead to it becoming worse, or we feel that our problems are unworthy of professional support. Maybe ignoring problems really works for some people, but I can’t help but feel very sad to think that someone may have a problem that they never deal with, and may miss out on many opportunities as a result of that problem causing ongoing or recurring issues in their life.

It also seems that we’re becoming less able to have online discussions without making them personal whilst sitting behind our keyboards and not having to face the consequences. I believe that making something personal or using jokes in a serious discussion shows a lack of strength, respect, and compassion, and perhaps the person becomes aggressive because they know they are in the wrong and would like to aggravate their opponent.

I don’t think it’s respectful to post jokes that could cause offence to some communities whilst selectively protecting other communities very seriously. Whilst we all make mistakes and don’t realise that our jokes may offend someone, I don’t think any humour that is personal and causes hurt is humorous or intelligent.

I didn’t really understand mental health until I went through struggles myself.

Like many, I thought depression was just attention-seeking or an excuse for laziness, and I wasn’t supportive to those around me suffering from depression. I think such negative connotations stem from people using the adjective ‘depressed’ interchangeably with ‘upset’, and a minority actually using depression as an excuse.

I was initially skeptical after judging the book by its title, but after reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig, my perspective really changed.

2017-07-19 12.28.00

It’s scary to be open about mental health, and so it’s easy to be discouraged about being open when we repeatedly try to initiate a discussion about it and get rejected. Perhaps people are afraid of saying something wrong, but I think it’s better to try to say something than nothing at all.

We all make mistakes, including myself because we’re all fallible and never stop learning no matter what age we are. However, someone who repeatedly rejects us and who can’t accept us as we are probably isn’t worth our time, and the problem is usually with them and not us.

The silence inevitably leads our imaginations to fill the gaps, creating all sorts of misunderstandings, false conclusions, and blaming ourselves. Unfortunately, for now the silence is something we need to equip ourselves to deal with, which is why we shouldn’t let our experience with one person or a minority of people, or the fear of rejection, discourage us from normalising mental health issues for the greater good so that we might not have to face so much silence in the future. As long as we are faced with rejection and awkward silences, there is a need for the normalisation of mental health issues.

Of course, it is possible to overshare or share too soon, so whilst sharing we should be careful about who we share things with, and when and how we share them.

Sometimes I wonder whether it would be better to become silent and stop being active on social media, but then again, I think that people will always find a way to judge us even if we are silent, and we may as well be open in order to identify the people who are willing to accept us as we are.


AUTHOR’S BIO

picsart_01-06-01-1534327539.pngLauren Stevens is from Reading, England, and currently studies the Master’s programme in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research at Tampere University in Finland. Her interests are humanitarian and development work, human rights, LGBT+, environmental sustainability, veganism, education, culture, languages, travel, and photography. Read more of Lauren’s works here.

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