Today, Thursday 3 February 2022, is Time to Talk Day. Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have co-organised the awareness day, and it’s a day about encouraging friends, families, and colleagues to talk to each other about their mental health.
With an easy to access Employee Assistance Programme, which provides free services including counselling, and a recently launched our Wellbeing Buddies service, at Muntons, we take our team members’ mental health seriously. Our Wellbeing Buddies are volunteers who work across various areas of the business and are available for a chat or help to signpost their colleagues to services if needed.
As part of Time to Talk Day, our Head of IT, Michael Howard, has kindly agreed to share his mental health story in the hopes it showcases the importance of talking about your feelings when things may be tough.
Michael starts: “Growing up in the 1990s, there was still an incredibly strong stigma about mental health difficulties. People just didn't talk about attending therapy or using antidepressants, and in particular, society didn't encourage men to open up and talk about how we were feeling physically, let alone emotionally mentally. It was OK for girls and women to cry, but men and boys? Definitely not.
“Fast forward to when I was around 27, where things went downhill for me. My relationship collapsed, and with that, I lost everything. Practically overnight, I no longer had a partner, a home, money, or friends. It was the darkest and most painful time of my life during which I experienced suicidal thoughts. I was ready to do it and knew exactly how."
“Thanks to the help of new friends, they recognised what was happening and encouraged me to talk to somebody, while also helping me to leave the house more often. So, I asked for help. I asked for a lot, and I took all that was available. Over the next ten years, I came to terms with this illness and would no longer let it control my life. About four years ago, my doctor diagnosed me with depression and so I attended therapy.
During his cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions, Michael learnt various coping strategies and, through counselling, realised that he’d mistaken his mood and behaviour for typical teenage angst and that he’d been living with depression for at least 20 years.
“For years, I could fight my depression and anxiety, and work out a way of balancing my feelings. However, in March 2020, things all changed because of COVID and I no longer felt in control of anything.”
Just like 60% of adults in the country*, Michael’s mental health suffered during the first lockdown, so struggled more than he had done for a while, resulting in him receiving treatment for his depression and anxiety once again.
“Even though lockdown was hard, I feel my mental health journey really started in the last two years. I was stronger than I gave myself credit for and could let go of scenarios, much more and easier than before. I allowed myself to feel my emotions because they were real. Before I would have dismissed them. I finally realised it was OK to be vulnerable, especially during those difficult times.”
During that time, Michael continued to receive virtual therapy and things have turned around for him.
“It’s been a journey that I’m pleased I started because I dread to think where things could have gone. It’s taken me this long to get where I am mentally, and I guess I’ll never be ‘cured’. However, what I know is I can handle bad days or down moments; they’re not always down to how I’m feeling. It could have just been a bad day, which we all experience from time to time. So being down or a little overwhelmed is a perfectly normal reaction to life’s events. We’re all on a mental health problem spectrum, whether or not we realise it. I’m married and have great friends, family, and colleagues who support and encourage me to continue with my healing process. I feel lucky, but I’m proud of myself, too. It’s taken a lot of work to get myself here, and now I know what my symptoms are that I must recognise, should I have a hard time again.
“I know that 20 years ago, I simply wouldn’t have understood or sympathised with an article like this. Now, I totally appreciate the struggles of depression and anxiety. As cheesy as the cliché of ‘it’s good to talk’ is, it’s so true. We’re all struggling, some more than others, but what you don’t see on things like, social media or out and about is that other people may have a support network; their village. It’s so easy to get trapped comparing ourselves with each other, but it’s a waste of time.
“We, as a society, need to stop telling men and boys to ‘man up’, ‘men don’t cry’ or 'stop being so girlie'. They’re dangerous phrases and instil a toxic belief that men’s emotions are worthless compared to women’s. Too many generations have gone through this negative mentality, which sometimes has been the root cause of alcoholism, gambling problems, and even suicide. We must work together to allow people to believe what they’re feeling is normal and guide them to the services available. It doesn’t have to be a tablet to get you through it; if you can't open up to friends or family, then you can talk to GPs, health visitors, midwives, counsellors, therapists, or social prescribers. On the flip side, we all have a responsibility to keep our eyes open and recognise the symptoms. If you notice somebody isn’t quite themselves, invite them for a walk and a chat or go to the pub for a talk. Just by thinking: 'ask twice', asking somebody how they are, and then asking again could really turn somebody’s life around.
“Don’t be afraid of talking. By asking for help, you are doing the strongest thing a person can do and you should be proud of yourself. This too shall pass."
One in four adults in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any year. Suicide in England and Wales is three times more common among men than among women, and the gap between genders continues to increase.
If you or you know somebody who is struggling with mental health, then please seek help immediately. You can find how, including information about text services to what to do during a crisis, by clicking here.