Mental health first response

What is your first response when you think of mental health issues? This post is inspired by some beautiful words from Gurprriet Siingh on his mental health journey.

What would be your first response if someone close to you told you that they have a mental health issue? What would be your first response if someone close to you told you that they were concerned you might be experiencing a mental health issue?

I have found myself on something of a mental health journey these past few months. I never would have expected any of this. If at the start of this year you had told me what was about to happen to me, I am sure I would have gone into denial or resistance, or even fear. I would have done all I could to reassure myself that everything was fine, that I can cope and get through these difficult times without any external help, just like always. But it happened to me. A few months ago my anxiety and stress levels became overwhelming. For the first time in my life, I sought professional help. I was diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depressive disorder.*

You are not alone. I have been overwhelmed by the supportive voices who have gone out of their way to tell me that I am not alone, and who have been there to offer me or to guide me towards the help I need. To each of these beautiful souls, I offer depthless gratitude.

If you are experiencing mental health issues, you are not alone. You are never alone.

Indeed, I have been surprised to find out that so many people I know have experienced or are experiencing mental health issues. For example, last Saturday (28 May 2022) I became aware – through a serendipitous tweet from the lovely Poonam Munshi – that my friend Gurprriet Siingh (AKA @JoyAndLife on Twitter), has found himself on a quite unexpected mental health journey of late. He has taken the brave and generous decision to speak publicly about what he is going through.

Behaving in a way that was not me

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Gurprriet recently appeared on a Times of India podcast episode entitled When work gets to you,** to talk about his issues with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I would urge everyone reading this to listen to Gurprriet’s clear, honest and brave words. His story rang so many bells for me. So much resonated with my own recent experiences.

I was particularly struck by Gurprriet’s words about how one first responds to mental health issues, whether they are being experienced by others, or by oneself. In his work as an executive coach, he has at times recommended that senior leaders seek professional help, when he recognises that they are experiencing acute stress. But their first response to his well-intentioned words is not always positive. Gurprriet says:

“There’s a stigma, and they say ‘But I don’t think I’m in such bad shape that I need to seek professional help’. and I’m like: ‘You do!’ And the first response is resistance or denial. I think it’s because you can go for years not realising that actually your brain, your emotions, your body, your entire physiology is breaking down because of stress, and you need help at multiple levels.”

I love Gurprriet’s honesty in describing how he found himself displaying exactly this reaction of resistance or denial when he began to experience mental health issues. I can relate. His condition intensified over a period of months, during which time he began to realise that he was not acting as he usually would. Then one day, he came to the realisation that he was “behaving in a way that was not me”. He says:

“I acknowledged that something was broken. And that’s the day I started thinking and talking and articulating about it. What was interesting was that the people around me didn’t know how to deal with it. For a while I felt a sense of betrayal, even. If these other people  are around me and nobody is helping me out… It’s only a little later that I realised how little people know about how to deal with somebody who is going through this.”

Towards the light

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The first step in moving back towards the light is to acknowledge that you have an issue. Only then can you begin to seek a path through and perhaps even out of where you find yourself.

Gurprriet’s earlier point about the physiological impact of stress is an important one. When he at last went to a counsellor for help, her first response to Gurprriet’s condition was to focus on getting her patient’s vitamin levels right. As Gurprriet says, “low vitamin B and D can depress emotionality”. Besides taking antidepressants, my treatment has also involved taking prescription-strength vitamin D tablets.

But perhaps the most important part of Gurprriet’s coming to terms with and learning how to deal with his condition was acknowledging how his own behaviour was affecting him:

“The battle within was for me to recognise my own psychology that works against me, and to make my peace with some things, and to make certain recalibrations of my beliefs.”

Learning to “prioritise self-care” has been one of the most challenging parts of Gurprriet’s mental health journey to date. But it is also the change that has been of most benefit to him. For him, self-care means restricting his work hours and his access to business emails outside of work hours. Setting these boundaries delivers boundless benefits:

“One big breakthrough was to not feel guilt when I took care of myself. The fact that I am doing it in a disciplined manner reinforces the fact that I value myself. I will therefore set these boundaries, not just for others but for myself. I have started respecting myself and valuing myself a lot more. And I think that’s accounted for half the healing since then. Sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves. We’re more violent with ourselves than others are. I think that was the most difficult part of the journey.”

This mental health journey on which Gurprriet finds himself is ongoing. It is not always an easy journey. I love that he has decided to be as open as he can about what he is going through. He explains why he chose this path of openness:

“I realised that many people don’t even recognise what’s going on. And I’ve been through it. I’ve fought my own battles. And I thought that maybe if I shared. it’d give more courage or maybe it’d give a platform to others. So I thought, let me go out there and begin a conversation and create a platform, make it feel safer for others to do the same, so they can get in touch. So that’s what it was really. Just giving back.”

Gurprriet’s decision to give back is the most generous and most beautiful gift that he could give to us. I love how open and how honest he has been about his mental health journey, and that he acknowledges that it is a journey. We can learn so much from what he has to say about how we first respond to hearing about mental health issues, in others or in ourselves. Our first response to mental health issues is not always the one that will lead us back towards the light, if that is where we need to go.

What is your first response when you think of mental health issues?

Gentle reader, I urge you to take your mental health seriously, to acknowledge what your mind might be really trying to tell you, and to take action or even seek help, if that is what is called for. Anxiety, stress and depression need to be taken seriously, before they become overwhelming.

May you be nothing but kind today, to others and to yourself.

May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.

RESOURCES

  • Mental health (NHS) Information and support for your mental health from the NHS.
  • Information and support (Mind) Resources from Mind, the UK mental health charity.
  • NAMI Homefront (NAMI) Online resources from US charity NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • SANE Australia Visit the site of this “national mental health charity making a real difference in the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues”.

FOOTNOTES

* I have written about my ongoing mental health journey in the following posts: Into the infinity of thoughts; Renewal; and No words?.

** Gurprriet Siingh’s appearance on the Times of India podcast was prompted by a LinkedIn post in which he chose to share his mental health journey with others, in the hope of starting a conversation about this topic that might be of help to others.

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