Editor’s letter: ‘The mental health message that worries me’

I’ve been thinking a lot about World Mental Health Day, which was a couple of weeks ago. As is the norm in our times, a lot of people were sharing deep and meaningful, inspirational quotes on social media. You know the sort of thing: ‘It’s OK to not be OK’, or ‘Check in on that person you haven’t heard from’ and, naturally, the ubiquitous, ‘Be kind’.

These are admirable, well-intentioned discussion points around the thorny subjects of depression and anxiety. Who knows, if my grandmother hadn’t been too proud or embarrassed to reach out and ask for help, she may not have taken her own life in 1995. So I fully support opening dialogue around mental health: speaking up, asking for help is vital. That said, there was one ‘inspirational’ quote that I saw being widely shared that, I must admit, had me wondering if we’ve not all finally jumped into that hellbound handcart. It read: ‘Your mental health is more important than your career, money, other people’s opinions, that event you said you would attend, your partner’s mood and your family’s wishes combined. If taking care of yourself means letting someone down, then let someone down.’

I have to ask: really? Should I really be applauded for not showing up – literally or figuratively – for my daughter if she needs me? Should I always decide that my needs and priorities outrank everyone else’s? Doesn’t being a functioning adult entail taking some rough with the smooth, having good days and bad days? We absolutely need to look after ourselves, to listen to our bodies when we’re not coping. But I’m troubled by the narrative that the best thing for one’s mental health is to collapse into and perpetuate sadness.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your mental health is forget the inner workings of your own head and focus outward, on others. Often, I have found pressing on through a tough time is absolutely the best gift for my mental health, especially when you can look back and say, ‘I did that! I got through and it feels amazing to have learned from it.’ I think we should focus much more on how to accept and handle difficult, low times. They come for all of us. Surely one of the fastest routes to misery is expecting life to be one long, trouble-free paradise? In the real world we cannot check out on everyone and everything, every time we feel down.

To me, showing up for yourself in this way, of not letting your mental demons get all the voting rights on how you live, is genuine ‘self care’. Consider Lisa Wade in this issue. She survived a violent sexual attack – one that nearly killed her, at the hands of someone she regarded as a friend. It’s an event that would flatten anyone’s emotional strength. Who would blame her for wanting to curl into a ball and never leave the house again? But here she is holding her head high and sharing her story. In looking outside herself, and being brave enough to open herself up to scrutiny about such a personal trauma, she will be part of a movement that helps others avoid this unspeakable crime.

Every day in this job I hear similar stories of women who wanted to retreat and cry – about a divorce, a health diagnosis, the caring demands placed on their shoulders – yet they find the strength to carry on and push through. This magazine is dedicated to all these incredibly powerful stories we hear and share every week in YOU magazine. I have to wonder: where would we be if, on every tough day we had, we went along with that quote?

Editor’s Picks:

A few things I’m coveting this week

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