How can we look after our mental health?

Shaniqua looks back on this year’s mental health focused conversation at The Kickback.

With last week being Mental Health Awareness Week, mental health was the topic of conversation on May 21st.  This year, we were looking at depression, so we were joined by Richard from Mind in Croydon, who did an amazing job of getting the conversation started and answering any questions that came his way.

After telling us a little about Mind in Croydon and the amazing work they do, Richard told us a little bit about depression, which “is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.”

Richard said, “If you don’t get something diagnosed, you can’t give it a name.”  To be diagnosed with depression, you will need to see your doctor, who will ask certain questions to determine the symptoms, which include eating too much, losing interest in things you usually enjoy, lack of concentration and feeling tired all the time.

What might help those struggling with depression then falls into three categories:

  1. Antidepressants (medication)
  2. Talking treatments (counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
  3. Lifestyle changes (creative activities, being active, going out in nature)

Richard told us that doing good things for other people can be good for your mental health, and that if you’re not going to see a counsellor, just speaking to a friend can be beneficial – “There are all things we can do to help each other.”

After speaking about depression, Demi was first to ask Richard a question: “Do you think Mind does a lot of work with companies?”  Richard said that employers are asking for a lot more of it, as one of the leading reasons for people taking time off work is mental health.  Avril agrees that it’s a bigger issue than it has been in the past, and she thinks that employers are starting to take note of that.

Avril then posed the question, “Why is it becoming a bigger issue?”  Richard believes that people’s lives are more complicated – “Everyone thinks that everyone’s life is a little bit better than theirs.”

This led to the interesting point about how we speak to each other.  “I think we’re all a bit worried, because if we ask someone how we’re feeling, if they say they’re not good, we don’t know what to do next,” Richard said.  “The more we practice the next bit, the better we’ll be at it.”

I later went on to speak about how I struggle to give an upfront answer to the “How are you?” question, regularly saying I’m okay when that is farthest from the truth, and how I struggle to articulate myself when speaking about my feelings.  I explained that I express myself better through writing and in my poetry – “I leave it all on the page or on the stage.”  Demi was on a similar wavelength, telling us how she could go weeks without doing a painting, but when she’s feeling “really, really down,” she will get a big canvas and blurt everything out, or she’ll get a smaller canvas if it’s a minor thing.

Elisha also expressed how it’s not good to hold stuff back – “I didn’t feel good.  After talking to someone, I felt much better about myself.”  Richard followed up by saying, “Someone said, ‘Depression is like anger turned inwards.’  You’ve got to get it out… If you turn your negativity in on yourself, it can be damaging.”

Richard later went on to make the point, “The really clever psychologists aren’t necessarily those working in the NHS.  They are those working in the advertising agencies.”  He told us that people who tend to be happy tend to have a spirituality about them, which doesn’t mean religion, but not being too attached to material things – “Advertisers don’t want you to think that going for a walk and noticing things will make you feel better.”

Having spoken about vulnerability being an issue earlier in the conversation, Kris wanted to return to it to ask why men don’t display vulnerability and if it was a biological phenomenon.  Avril thinks that “some things are indoctrinated” and that as a society, “we are taught that men are less vulnerable.”  Richard said, “In terms of evolution, we’re not that far away from cave people… As a species, the woman gives birth and she is vulnerable, children are vulnerable, so men need to be strong to protect them.  We’re still not far away from that.”

Demi then asked, “It’s almost like, are we trying to fight against nature putting a role on a male or female?” to which Hector replied, “Right now, nature doesn’t hold a massive sway on how we behave.”  Kris followed up by asking, “What about the biological instincts we have embedded?”  Hector responded by saying that we’re born and then “we get taught to build big things and have lots of money.”

Jadi-Ann thinks that it is done deliberately, and that parents think it is a normal thing, because of the way society is.  “It’s like trying to mould the vase into what you don’t want the vase to be like,” Hector said.  Richard also told us that for men of a certain age, suicide is the leading cause of death, with there being a question of whether their role has been diminished and what their meaning is.

When Jadi-Ann asked Richard if he thought it was important for everyone to express how they feel, his answer was yes – “What’s really important is to talk to each other about how we’re feeling… We need to keep practising what happens after that first exchange of, ‘Hi, how are you?'”


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