HOW TO PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR PAIN THAT YOU CANNOT SEE
You don’t need to know why others need your compassion and empathy for their mental health. You just need to know that they would appreciate it.
HOW DO YOU LET PEOPLE KNOW THAT YOU ARE FEELING MENTALLY FRAGILE, AND WHAT IS THE BEST WAY FOR THEM TO MAKE THINGS EASIER FOR YOU?
HELPING ALLIES TO HELP YOU
Awareness of the challenge of living with mental health issues is on the increase, but awareness doesn’t mean people automatically feel comfortable talking about it or knowing how to support it. I truly believe that the majority of people desperately want to support anyone struggling with mental health concerns, but they fear that they may get it wrong and make things worse. And this fear only grows as we can become more and more aware of the many different types of issues that people can face. It can feel that you will make things worse the more you try to help. Yet I believe there are ways that we can help each other bridge the divide.
I’ve experienced various levels of mental health challenges, from a nervous breakdown in my 20s, to mild anxiety attacks and overwhelm in crowded places. I didn’t and couldn’t let everyone who I interacted with know that I wasn’t feeling totally okay and in many cases, just simply didn’t want to. It was hard enough dealing with it, let alone admitting it to others who had nothing else to go on about me other than these brief interactions. So instead I muddled through, feeling vulnerable and scared that I was going to hear something wrong, do something wrong, or in some way make the person I was talking to feel uncomfortable. I would then get anxious that somehow my lack of response or my different response than was expected, was a reason for me to hide my mental health even more.
As society tries to learn how to support those with mental health issues better, I was trying to think of something that would work when I struggle. I realised that actually, if I could just let people know that I needed a bit more of a gentle approach when they talked to me that day, then that would help them know that today was a good day to show support, empathy or maybe just smile at me to let me make a human connection.
Inspired by the ‘Baby on Board’ badges of TFL in London, I created a badge that you can wear on the days when you feel more fragile, and that can let others know in a subtle and unobtrusive way that you would welcome some understanding. That might be a smile, maybe repeat the question more slowly, or accept the fact that you don’t want to interact in conversation today. Being a mental health ally is not always about taking action – it is about taking your cue from them on the best way to help them through. You may not know the right way – they may not even know the right way, to be honest – but between you both you create a wonderful moment of connection and compassion and understand that in the end, we are all just winging it.
The badge is a nudge to others to say “Listen, I want to connect with people today, and I want to get out into the world and be a positive part of it; but today, I could really do with you appreciating that this is a bit tough for me and anything you could do to recognise that would be really welcomed.”
In this time of uncertainty and social anxiety, I want to try to show that others are there to help you get through it and to show the mental health allies a simple way to provide the most support.