One in four people are effected by mental health issues each and every year. It can be hard to talk openly about your issues, but you may be surprised at how supportive people can be.
We spoke to leading charities and experts about how to tell if you might be suffering with depression, and how to make that brave move of figuring out what to do next.
“Experiences vary, and sometimes we might not notice it creeping up on us or our friends or family, but things you would commonly spot are feelings of low confidence, feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, more irritable and angry than usual, or an inability to enjoy things,” said a spokesman from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). “Someone might have repetitive negative thoughts, you may feel you are in a bubble: you can’t reach out, and others can’t reach you. A flat feeling. You might know you love your partner or family, but you can’t feel it. Physically we might experience low levels of energy, finding it hard to do anything, often to the point where it feels impossible to get out of bed. This can actually be experienced as aches and pains. Sleep may also be affected: too little or too much.
“If you were looking out for a mate you may see them withdraw from social situations but sometimes they may party all the time,” says CALM. “With blokes particularly, drugs and alcohol are often used as a way of dealing with these feelings. It can also take less to ‘snap’ at others. The important thing is that if you see a change in someone, be there for them, ask them how they’ve been doing and be willing to listen without judgment.”
CALM added: “If you’re struggling, tell someone you trust. Someone you know who will listen and take you seriously, and don’t worry about how it comes out. ‘I feel shit’ will do to start things off. This first step of talking about it can be the hardest, but the overwhelming majority of people we speak to say it was a relief to let somebody else know and they got a really positive response.”
Mental Health charity Young Minds listed some symptoms of depression as:
- Not wanting to do things that you previously enjoyed
- Not wanting to meet up with friends or avoiding social situations
- Sleeping more or less than normal
- Eating more or less than normal
- Feeling irritable, upset, miserable or lonely
- Being self-critical
- Feeling hopeless
- Wanting to self-harm
- Feeling tired and not having any energy
“The most important thing you can do if you think you’re depressed is talk to someone,” a Young Minds spokesman added. “This could be a friend, a family member, a teacher, a colleague, a GP, a counsellor or a confidential helpline. Don’t suffer in silence. Talking about how you’re feeling can really make a difference.”
But what do you do next?
Sue Baker from the charity Time To Change gave us the following top tips – apply these when thinking about having your first conversation about your mental health with someone:
- Be prepared: “Think about the different reactions – positive and negative – that the person might have so you’re prepared. The person will be thinking about their perception of mental health problems, you as a person and how the two fit together.”
- Choose a good time: “Choose a time and place when you feel comfortable and ready to talk.”
- Be ready for lots of questions… or none: “The person you are talking to might have lots of questions or need further information to help them understand. Or they might feel uncomfortable and try to move the conversation on – if this happens it’s still helpful that the first step has been taken.”
- An initial reaction might not last: “The person might initially react in a way that’s not helpful – maybe changing the subject, or responding with unhelpful advice or clichés rather than listening. But give them time – it might be the first time they’ve ever had a conversation about mental health.”
- Have some information ready: “Sometimes people find it easier to find out more in their own time. You might want to download some information from the Time to Change website.”
- Keep it light: “We know that sometimes people are afraid to talk about mental health because they feel they don’t know what to say or how to help. So keeping the conversation light will help make you both feel relaxed.”
- Courage is contagious: “Often once mental health is out in the open, people want to talk. Don’t be surprised if your honesty encourages other people to talk about their own experiences.”
“Equally, if you’re looking out for a friend, there are lots of simple, everyday ways you can support someone who has a mental health problem,” added Sue. “Small things can make a big difference – like being there to listen, keeping in touch and reminding the other person that you care. You don’t need to be an expert to talk to someone with a mental health problem. And it’s often the small things you do and say that can make a big difference to someone – like asking ‘How are you?’ or dropping them a text to say hello.”