This isn’t really about my current or past mental health, though at times in the past it has been questionable. This, as stupid as it sounds, is about growing up not knowing that people’s mental health was really even an issue.
In my late teens I became far more aware. Up until then however, this topic past me by on a daily basis in our family home and in some of my social circles as well.
It shames me to say it but throughout secondary school I didn’t realise the struggles some of my family were experiencing. It turned out two of which were suffering and still do to varying degrees, with depression.
I’ve always been pretty happy-go-lucky and carefree, so I just carried on my merry way. Sometimes I didn’t spot the signs of how they were feeling below the surface. Other times, I just thought things like “why are you so moody? You were fine yesterday”. And the classic “I’m sure they’ll cheer up in a bit”. More often than not, I’d notice the mood lift when I started pratting about or had a chat with them about whatever topic of conversation happened to pop into my head. What I know now is what I didn’t see when I left the room: the anguish they were experiencing and the struggles they were trying to contain.
People suffering with depression are good at hiding it. I can definitely vouch for this. If you’re with them, they don’t want you to see their suffering, or you may just make them forget how they’re actually feeling for a brief moment in time. For all the world they might want to tell you their thoughts and feelings, but don’t want to burden you, or fear you may not understand. From my experience, the person suffering just wishes that you knew.
The first time it fully came to my attention was when I had an argument with my dad. It was late and he was playing loud music in a darkened room. The music was keeping me awake, so I went to see what the fuck was going on. He’d had a bit to drink and just wasn’t really there. I started raising my voice. “What the hell are you doing? I’m trying to get some sleep, I’ve got footy in the morning!” The response I got was – “FUCK OFF!” Looking back, rightly so. It was a cry for help and seems so obvious to me now.
I saw red and a shouting match ensued. We were pushing each other across the room. At that moment, whilst pushing back, I realised this isn’t the person I know, “what’s wrong?!?” I thought. The pushing turned into him hugging me and me comforting him. Over the next week he opened up and told me various things. All I kept thinking was “how the hell had I missed this before?” “How had I not seen those weights dragging him down?”
Since then, over ten years ago now, I’ve had friends open up to me about their own struggles. I think in part this is because I’ve had mental health issues of my own to contend with but perhaps to a lesser degree of severity than them. It could also be partially because I’ve helped others through tough times before. This makes me quite open to talking about things maybe others aren’t, so they’ve found it a bit easier to open up to me.
The “signs” aren’t the same for everyone. I couldn’t tell you how to spot everything that could be a clue to someone’s mental struggles. Some are more noticeable like turning to self-harm. Other times it might just be someone going completely into their shell. All I would say is, as basic as it sounds, keep an eye out for others. And for god sake be caring. If you brush your friend off, even just once, without you knowing they might not feel they are able to talk to you or to someone else about things that are troubling them.
The more we talk to each other about mental health and the stigmas that surround it, the better it’ll be. The more we talk, the more steps and actions can be taken to help others down the line. Mental health will never be “cured” but we can certainly ease the strain and ensure the pain that some feel is made as manageable as possible to deal with on a daily basis.
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