This is one of the most important questions you can ask someone right now. It has been an incredibly tough year for many in the Wychwoods, with money worries, illness, bereavement, isolation, stress, uncertainty … the list goes on. We’ve missed meeting friends at The Hare and the sports club, new mums haven’t been able to get together for support at the usual clubs, many of us are working from home while home schooling kids, the churches have been limited, and our friendly community has been much curtailed. So, it is hardly surprising that national statistics show a marked increase in mental health issues since last year.
As someone who has struggled with mental health in the past, including depression and anxiety (D&A), I feel for anyone right now who may be suffering with similar problems. It is an awful and lonely place to be; one that is so often misunderstood. It has taken a long time for society to take these issues seriously, and thankfully there is more investment than ever for mental health conditions, as our local schools and surgery can testify. Yet there is still a prejudice and lack of education that exists. Depression is an illness, not a choice, and it can cause catastrophic repercussions to the sufferer’s life and those around them. It can happen to anyone, at any time, in any circumstances.
I was one of the lucky ones. I have an incredibly understanding and supportive husband, who held things together when I fell apart. I was able to access counselling through the Wychwood Surgery and Talking Space (our local counselling service), where I learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which helped me to retrain my brain away from negative thought processes. Eventually, on my doctor’s advice, I bit the bullet and began a course of SSRIs, a medical intervention which helps adjust the levels of serotonin in the brain. I know they do not suit everyone, but for me, they were a game changer, enabling me to become “normal” and life became so much easier. It was like a huge heavy black cloud had just been lifted from my shoulders. It also demonstrated to me that my depression (and the umbrella for this condition is a broad one) was quite clearly a medical issue and not just me needing to “sort myself out”.
I now feel in control of my D&A, and it no longer controls me. The irony is that having gone through hell over many years, most people who know me would never know. I’m known for being confident, happy and “always cheerful”.
So please, next time you ask someone how they are, perhaps take a moment to look a little closer, listen a little harder, and maybe ask “but how are you really?”.
If you are concerned about your own mental health or that of someone else, PLEASE DO NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE. There is help and advice out there. Speak to your GP, or find more information about mental health issues at www.mind.org.uk.