MENTAL HEALTH | Want to know why people don’t open up about struggles with their mental health?

There’s a lot going on the world right now. Some stuff is still kinda new that we’re only just learning to deal with after a few months. Other things however, have been around for a while but haven’t been given the attention they need or deserve. Until now.

If you know me in real life, you know I’m a talkative person (I’m not called Jenny Chat for nothing). However, there’s one subject I stay uncharacteristically quiet about outside of the privacy of my own home, which is mental health.

I personally find it very hard to open up about mental health struggles I’ve experienced. I feel uncomfortable about having them, I don’t want to be viewed as ‘just another statistic’, and that’s before I even start to think about how other people might treat me as a result of knowing I might be going through something. That’s just how I feel about myself, it has nothing to do with anybody else or what they’ve had to deal with.

There have been points where I’ve scraped along the bottom or my proverbial barrel in life. During those times I’ve screwed up the nerve (because talkative doesn’t equal confident folks) spoken to people in the hope of getting support, or maybe just some kind words.

Unfortunately, I got neither.

I’ve written below a handful of the resoinses I received, the ones that really stuck out for me and continue to stick with me. I’ve written these as they were said to me and without any emotion.

Former Manager, 2002.                      “Why would you think you were depressed? You’ve got a good job and a decent wage, there’s nothing wrong with your life. OK well I suppose if you’ve been told you should be signed off from work I’ll allow it this time. I expect you to ring me every couple of days to check in with me, and if you’re better soon just ignore your doctor and come back early.”

Locum GP, 2009.                                  “what do you mean you feel stressed, what you have to be stressed about? (I tell him) Oh that’s nothing; if you want to know about stress you should try doing my job. You just need to go to the library and get a book on how to relax, there’s loads of them.”

Former Manager, 2016.                       “You can’t get upset and cry un the office. Someone else in the office could’ve been really really affected because they’ve had very serious mental health problems, so we can’t have other people being upset seeing you like that”

CEO, 2017.                                                   (I wrote a letter to my manager explaining how I felt because I didn’t want to say it in person and get upset. This letter was then passed to their manager and they asked to talk to me about it) “I’ve read your letter. I’ve heard you’ve been saying stuff about wanting to crash your car so you don’t have to face work or whatever, but you’ve been here for 5 minutes. Other people who’ve been here since day dot can act a certain way, but those rules don’t apply to you.”

Counsellor, 2018.                                       “I don’t really know what to do with you here and how you can sort it out” (side note: this one has actually become a running joke in my household because of how unbelievable I found it at the time. I continued to attend sessions for several weeks, even though I received similar comments, because I thought I would be seen as a failure or not committed to improving my mental health)

GP, circa 2019.                                             “I think you should just dealing with whatever your problem is now instead of expecting me to just give you a prescription”

Hr Adviser, 2019.                                         – (After explaining I’m having a problem with a senior colleague and need some assistance in resolving). “Well, he’s like that with everybody, even me. I understand you made a complaint to your line manager about this too. Are you saying wanting to put in a formal grievance? I wouldn’t recommend this given that you’re clearly not in a good state of mind.”        – “Are you having mental health problems?” (I answer yes and say I’ve thought about crashing my car so I don’t have to go to work) “so you’re clearly not happy. You need to find something that makes you happy. And off the record, if that’s not working here…”

Hr Adviser, 2020.                                          (After explaining I’m working in a toxic environment and I’m struggling) “I know some of the things that have been said, but I’m not willing to get involved in anything to do with that department because I’m worried people will think I have some kind of personal vendetta.”

Company nurse/informal counsellor, 2020.                                                               (After explaining troubles working in a toxic work environment, and them saying they would have a think about what to advise) “I’ve spoken with the Head of HR, and they said you should be able to address things like this in your communication sessions” (I ask what kind of communication sessions) “Don’t you all have a meeting every week?” (I say yes, a meeting to relay each team member’s jobs for the week only, this is not pastoral) “Oh right, I was told you did. I dont know then.”

So if you wonder why some people don’t communicate when they’re struggling, here it is. It could be that they’re afraid of getting a negative response like one these, or it could be that they’ve mustered up the courage to open up and been met with a response just like this (as I was).

The story is this: It’s OK to not be able to empathise, understand or know what to  do. What’s not OK is deliberately choosing to be insensitive. If you can’t choose to be kind, don’t choose to be a dick instead.

Thanks for reading

J xx

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