Mental health: seeking help when the words won’t come out

October 10, 2022

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Nikol Nikolova explores the urgency of making mental health and wellbeing our number one priority

Why is it that we’re quick to visit the doctor when we’re physically unwell and put our energy into getting better? However, when it comes to our mental wellbeing, we paint a smile on our face and try to cope in isolation. We’re too often told to just “Get it together”.

The concept of mental wellbeing is often dismissed, with many people tiptoeing around it. Although society has become more open and accepting, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health. Nonetheless, the coronavirus crisis has forced us to restart the conversation. Prioritising our mental health has never been more critical. The theme for this years World Mental Health Day 2022 is ‘making mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority!

A recent survey conducted by Young Minds reported that 80% of its respondents agreed that the pandemic had worsened their mental health. Elevated levels of stress are due to a whole host of factors, from misinformation surrounding the virus to adjusting to changes in education, employment and people’s daily routine.

Everyone has their story to tell of struggling to keep good mental health during these overwhelming times. I set out to speak to three young people about the particular issues they’ve been facing.

FOMO (fear of missing out)
FOMO generally describes the feeling or perception that an individual is missing out on fun or important life experiences that others are having. This can be a significant source of stress and can also affect a person’s self-esteem and overall happiness.

Anna, 22, shared her experiences of FOMO and how she’s found ways to cope.

“I couldn’t wait to graduate and start achieving all the goals that I had in mind. So, when the pandemic hit during my last year of university, it was quite frankly a hard slap in the face,” she explains.

Many students like Anna have been suffering from FOMO, believing that they’re missing out on the best years of their life.

FOMO is not easy to deal with in the age of social media, where people are constantly portraying ideal lifestyles

“Parties were cancelled, travel plans were put on hold, and our classes with friends were replaced by online Zoom meetings,” Anna adds.

However, the real struggle came with social media. Sites like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook greatly exacerbate the problem of FOMO.

This was especially true as we sat at home watching others enjoying their lives as if the pandemic didn’t exist; jetting off on tropical holidays, partying with friends and leading ideal lifestyles.

“I’m grateful to be healthy, but seeing these people go on about their daily lives as if nothing had happened made me feel frustrated and angry. There were so many moments where I felt stuck and depressed. I was putting myself down and feeling regret on a daily basis.”

FOMO is not easy to deal with in the age of social media, but Anna decided to share some useful tips, which include keeping a gratitude journal. We can all practise gratitude while healthily working towards our goals. She suggests that we try and shift our focus from what we don’t have, to what we do have.

Stress and anxiety
“During the pandemic, I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety. There came a point where I was really scared to leave my house for months on end,” Ellie, 21, explains.

“My house became my safety net and just hearing about the death toll on the news every day made my anxiety worse,” she adds.

“After the first lockdown ended I would make everyone at home disinfect everything and change their clothes once they stepped through the door. I would anxiously clean all the keys, doorknobs and surfaces around the house.”

While taking the necessary precautions is vital for our safety, Ellie recalls having anxious thoughts and obsessively worrying about her health every time she went out.

[authquote text=”We need to normalise conversations around mental health and ensure that everyone understands that sharing emotions is not a sign of weakness”]

Slowly Ellie started expressing her anxiety to her family and friends. She felt less stressed and alone, finding that some of the people close to her were going through similar difficulties.

“For families and friends to be good allies, they should try to understand and value their loved one’s feelings. Be there to support them instead of dismissing what they’re going through,” says Ellie.

Finally, she reminds us all that we need to normalise conversations around mental health and ensure that everyone understands that sharing emotions is not a sign of weakness. It’s such a positive feeling to truly connect with people.

Intrusive thoughts/Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Many people had their first encounter with mental health issues during the pandemic. However, Laura, 23, was already struggling and felt the impact of the lockdown intensely.

“Stress and anxiety are not uncommon in my everyday life, with intrusive thoughts bombarding my mind. With lockdown, the constant changes and high levels of uncertainty became a huge challenge. Over the past year, I have felt my peace diminishing with thoughts getting louder and stronger,” she explains.

“Back in early 2021, after over a year of job hunting, I had finally got employed as a teacher. They said work hard and you will reap the rewards. Yet, less than three weeks in my new position, Covid-19 hit and my school closed, leaving me and other employees lost and devastated. This was not the future I had predicted.”

Things became very difficult for Laura. Her thoughts often spiralled, as she felt anxious that she couldn’t support or contribute to her family, leaving her constantly agonising over when this nightmare would end.

Laura felt increasingly helpless, believing she was only a burden to her household. But with time, she began to see these forced circumstances as a learning experience. She found her voice and told her friends about her distress. Reaching out to friends helped her realise that she wasn’t alone.

People who are struggling could try journaling as a way to track their thinking…

“After learning more about my issues I’m now able to recognise intrusive thoughts and I don’t categorise them as my own. I remind myself that I am not my thoughts”.

Laura suggests that people who are struggling should try journaling, as a way to track their thinking, or even talking to themselves out loud in the very moments where those thoughts feel unbearable can help.

Finally, she encourages us that, “it’s not a saviour we truly need as we know intrusive thoughts don’t magically disappear when someone steps in but knowing that we’re not alone is a great source of comfort in itself.”

Let’s take this time to educate ourselves and others about mental health. Check-in with your loved ones, even if they don’t seem to be struggling. Remember that your mental and physical health are inextricably linked.

Our mind is one of the most vital parts of our bodies, and just because we can’t always see mental illness, doesn’t mean that it isn’t impacting us greatly.

Mental health matters!

If you are struggling to look after your mental health, don’t paint a fake smile on your face and suffer in silence; you can find support at:

Nikol graduated from King’s College London with a first-class degree in Spanish and Portuguese studies. She is of Bulgarian origin, enjoys dancing, travelling and learning about history and culture. Nikol enjoys tackling and investigating difficult and taboo topics in her writing.

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