In the past few years, conversations surrounding mental health have come on in leaps and bounds. From celebrities opening up about their own struggles to movements like #TimetoTalk, it’s super refreshing to feel like these conversations can be had. There’s still a long way to go – around 90% of people who admit to taking a ‘mental health day’ from work still use alternative excuses for their absence – but a big concern about this is the reliance we can develop on these conversations as a pseudo-‘treatment’ for serious mental health concerns.
It worries me when it comes to our current view on mental health that it can run the risk of tipping people into a ‘sunken place’ of sort. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing that we talk about our issues,but instead of using those conversations to push forward to accessing more substantial care and support, we can get stuck in an echo-chamber. We can begin to depend entirely on the unequivocal love and support of our friends, families, online communities, to the point where we base our value and progress on them alone – and that’s where it gets a bit scary. We’re no longer healing for ourselves.
Assessing your own mental state
There are some big things to try and understand about yourself before you can really understand if your coping mechanisms are helping or hurting you:
- Are the negative feelings circumstantial right now? If you can see a way out of the crises you’re experiencing that is practical and not self-destructive, it can be more manageable to get the advice and support you need to move forward.
- If you know how you feel when you don’t have these extreme feelings, how did you manage sadness before? If you’re typically someone that doesn’t reach out for support and you’re experiencing a crisis, chances are you need it quite urgently.
- IMPORTANT: Are you a risk to yourself right now? Please please seriously think about this. If you are at a stage of being a danger to yourself, either through self-destructive behaviour like excessive drinking or drug use, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, you need to speak to someone who is qualified to deal with it. Friends and family (and my bloody blog) are not going to be able to respond in the appropriate way right now, and they’ll most likely end up inadvertently doing more harm than good. Click here, bookmark it, use it.
Utilising conversations about negative feelings in a positive way
It’s hard to self-analyse when your support networks and ways of coping are working against you – and to be honest it can be kind of hard to digest sometimes. When I was younger I definitely fell into hyper-negative coping mechanisms for a while, and it’s worth noting that at the time, any attempt to put forward some of the suggestions that I might put down here would have massively riled me up. However, if you’re able to understand them and ensure you’re framing the tools and support you have ‘positively’, it can be the difference between sinking into a pit, and moving forward.
Take a bit of time on this stuff, and don’t worry about proving anything with the answers either way, just try to answer them for yourself:
Are you remaining open to/utilising professional support if needed?
This is crucial if you have clinical depression, anxiety, anything that goes beyond just negative feelings and flare-ups into the realms of mental illness. Conversations and emotional support cannot replicate professional support on what may be a biological issue. I’m not big on self-diagnosis but if you’re not sure on seeking professional help there’s a little quiz here that may be helpful (don’t take it as bible it’s an internet quiz).
Are you using conversations for reflecting, or for ruminating?
It can be beneficial to reflect on your negative feeling and attempt to break them down, but ruminating (i.e. replaying the same thought/experience again and again without moving forward) can make negative feelings so much worse. This is kind of where people get into the accusations of people ‘wallowing’ – although I think implying there is any intention behind it is wrong. If you find yourself switching off when your support system try to offer solutions, or assess the situation practically, you’re potentially at risk of ruminating.
Try your best to see conversations about the negative feelings as an ‘outsider’ looking in – what would you say to help a friend of yours faced with the same issue?
Support vs. reliance – how much are you putting on these conversations?
One of the major pieces of advice given to people supporting those in places of negative feelings and crises is to set clear boundaries. This is partly because it can be so hard for a person in a bad place to not become overly reliant on their support system.
If you are finding yourself calling someone in the middle of the night, or experiencing major dips in mood or even further crises when a particular person is not able to support you, it’s creating a major reliance on one person or group, to the point of their support impacting your own health. This kind of makes it really had to grow and heal. A really positive step is to try and analyse this for yourself – try to set those boundaries for them.
This being said, remember the bit I said above – if you are a risk to yourself and you are in danger of doing something self-destructive, you absolutely need to talk to someone – but it needs to be a professional.
Don’t beat yourself up.
If you’re in a low spot, on top of all the above, remember not to ever feel bad about talking about your negative feelings or mental health concerns. Beating yourself up about being down is surprisingly common, but it is literally ruminating on top of ruminating. It’s important to talk, to check in with your support system, to be open and honest, and – eventually – to show them your progress.
Lots of love,