Today is World Mental Health Day. I feel it’s inevitable that the question of “Why?” may come up. Why do we have multiple Mental Health Days / weeks / months? Why do we have to keep talking about this, to keep bringing up a subject that seems so obvious? Are we beating a dead horse?
Let’s first look at some stats for the hard facts:
- In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness (CAMH)
- Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-29 (WHO)
- By age 40, 50% of the population will have or have experienced a mental health disorder (CAMH)
- Approximately 21.6% of Canadians met criteria or a substance use disorder during their lifetime (Statistics Canada)
Do any of these surprise you? What’s more surprising is the fact that many of these statistics are an underestimate, due to many studies not including Aboriginal populations, Armed Forces, homeless individuals, and the fact that many individuals under-report mental illness.
As a therapist working in mental health, I see the faces of people who live this struggle each and every day. I hear the stories about how they haven’t known how to talk about it with someone, or how they have talked about it and were told “Just don’t think about it” or “It’ll be okay”. It is my belief that these words are generally said with intentions of comfort, but that their actual impact is one of feeling invalidated, brushed off, or unheard. This is one of the reasons I think calling attention to mental health so important – so the general population is better-informed with how to acknowledge people when they come forward with a struggle so as not to further invalidate the individual who is struggling.
So what can we say? What is a more helpful response when a friend, coworker, or loved one comes to us with a struggle?
I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.
This must be really hard for you. Do you want to talk more about it?
What is it that is making you feel that way?
I am here for you.
It means a lot to me that you opened up about this.
Is there something I can do to help?
Do you think it would be helpful to talk to a professional? Can I help you find one?
The key here is sitting with this person and listening, even when it’s uncomfortable. Not immediately trying to problem-solve or fix the situation, because often it is not a problem that can be quickly fixed. Not telling the person they’re okay or they’re going to be okay, because sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. Not being afraid to ask hard questions such as inquiring further if suicide is mentioned. There is a common misconception that talking about suicide may further increase chances of it happening – but really the opposite is true. The more we talk about this uncomfortable thing, the more we open the door for that individual to express how they truly feel. This rings true for any difficult emotion, thought, or feeling.
Today a friend posted on Instagram, “You could ask someone 99 times if they are okay and only receive their cry for help on the 100th response”. This rang so true to me. I’m currently getting over a cold, and have been touched with the amount of times friends and family have texted to ask how I’m feeling. Why can’t we do the same for mental health?
Ask if someone doesn’t seem like themselves. Ask if someone seems quiet. Ask if someone cancels coming to events frequently. Ask if someone doesn’t show up for work. Ask if someone makes an off-hand joke about killing themselves. Ask if you have a gut feeling but outside everything seems okay. Ask just for the sake of asking!
It never hurts to ask – even if it takes 99 times.
Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11855-eng.htm