On Thursday last week, someone pissed me off on Twitter. Not exactly big news, as Twitter is full of people getting irked on a minute-by-minute basis.
This was someone tweeting that they disliked the sentiments ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and ‘it’s okay to talk’, because in their line of work they would be judged negatively for opening up about their poor mental health. The tone of the tweet was a bit resentful and sanctimonious, or at least that’s how I read it.
Thursday (10th October) was World Mental Health Day and, from what I could see, social media and news feeds were flooded with people engaging in the conversation about it. I felt a bit like this person on Twitter was saying that those of us are able to talk about it should maybe be a bit quieter when doing it. I felt this person was saying that in a REAL job (which I don’t have at the moment) and in the REAL ADULT world, talking about mental health was not the done thing. So I got cross and stroppy.
Then I pulled my head out of my own arse and had a word with myself.
Now, I am aware that I am in a really privileged position to be able to share as much as I do about my mental health. I have met with very little judgement from people (at least to my face!) and I don’t work in a job where I feel forced to conceal when I’m not okay. Even when I was still working I received nothing but support from my colleagues and the leadership team. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m cisgendered – all of which mean that I I am a lot freer to seek about my mental health than a lot of others. My situation is by no means representative of everyone.
So, even though initially I was quite cross with this person for being so down on the idea of WMHD and of people talking more, that quickly morphed into just feeling really sad that they have not had good experiences of talking about their mental health, and that they feel it would be detrimental to their job to do so.
It also reminded me that, like everything, talking about mental health is a very personal thing, and what feels comfortable to one person would be unthinkable for another.
I’ll also say that, considering I bang on about mental health so much myself, I am still sometimes surprised by the things people share and reveal. On Thursday, people who I have never before seen speak about their mental health in public shared stories, anecdotes, messages of support and reassurances that their metaphorical doors are always open.
Despite knowing that mental illness does not discriminate at all, I still found myself going ‘but X is so pretty, surely they can’t feel anxious?’ or ‘woah, I always thought Y seemed so confident and successful, I can’t believe they ever feel down!’ We can all fall into the trap of thinking that some are immune to unhappiness or illness, and in my opinion the more people share their stories, big or small, the more the mental health narrative grows and a much more realistic picture is created. So this massive outpouring of mental-health related messages on Thursday was amazing, and I think everyone who shared their sentiments is so incredibly brave.
It’s great that so many people felt able to talk that day, and I hope they found their words were met with support and kindness, and that they can continue to talk all year round. But equally, I hope people who do not feel comfortable sharing do not feel they HAVE to. I hope that, for them, just seeing that they are not alone will be enough to offer some comfort.
Just because in an ideal world we would be as comfortable speaking about mental health as we are about physical health, does not mean that everyone should feel compelled to.