It’s important to recognise that if you are supporting someone with a mental health issue - a partner, father, brother or friend - that sometimes this can take a toll on your wellbeing. And it’s ok to admit that you need extra support, or that you don’t know how to help sometimes.
I’m female, but I want to share my story to show that you’re not alone if you feel lost, worried or inadequate when it comes to supporting someone, and it’s ok to talk about that too. This may be heavy reading for the most part - but stick with me! It’s constructive, I promise…
Talking about suicide is not easy. Losing someone close to you is always difficult, and accepting that they ended their own life is even harder.
Four years ago someone I was very close to took his own life. I felt like it was totally out of the blue. I didn’t see it coming. I knew he was having some problems, but suicide? This person who I spent my days laughing with, talking about our philosophies on life and gossiping in my room - just generally enjoying my time with. How?
Although I still can’t help but ask myself this question from time to time, back then I didn’t know enough about mental health to understand at all. And that was one of the most difficult things about it. My friends and I weren’t equipped to deal with his illness, or his death. I didn’t know the signs to look out for when it came to diminishing mental health. You spend all those years at school learning, but some of the most important subjects in life just weren’t covered.
I found it difficult to express how I felt for a long time after his death, I would support my friends who needed me, but I didn’t know how to process my own emotions. I became hyper worried about my friends and family if anyone showed any signs of mental illness. My younger brother was experiencing difficulties with his mental health at this point too and I was terrified. I didn’t want to lose anyone else. It got to the point at times where I was exhausting myself with the worries ticking over in my mind. I could never say no if anyone needed me, regardless of how I was feeling or what was going on in my own life. I still didn’t really know how to support my friends who were suffering with depression. And I felt such crippling guilt if I failed to make people feel better.
It was only the beginning of this year, when I had got to the point where I had quite severe anxiety, and added pressure from other areas in my life that were starting to fall apart, to finally admit that I needed some help myself. I couldn’t be of help to anyone in my life if I wasn't taking care of my own needs. Eventually I went to the doctors and spoke to the mental health nurse and began getting some support.
I was lucky that the nurse who dealt with me was amazing. He gave me the time I needed to explain my situation from the beginning and he took his time explaining my options to begin moving forward with my life. I felt so relieved. And I realised that all this time I had been encouraging my friends to talk to me about their mental health struggles, I really should have acknowledged my own and given my own feelings the value they deserved. For the first time in years I didn’t feel guilty for having emotions.
It was also at this point that I began to realise that there are people out there that you can talk to if you need help supporting someone with an illness. Whether it’s just someone to vent to, advice, immediate help in a crisis, anything. There are phone lines to call, resources to read online, places to go and talk to people. There is help to try and take the pressure off you when you need it, or to guide you when you feel like everything you say is the wrong thing.
The point I want to make is that no matter what situation you are in, and how much or little time you spend supporting someone with a mental illness, it’s always ok to ask for help if you need it. To help others, remember to take notice of what YOU need too.
And to end my story on a happier note, the reason this project, Man Up Man Down, exists is because of this tragic experience that I shared with Kate, one of the founders of the campaign. I hope that our story and the stories of others will help encourage more people to talk openly, because talking really can change your life.
If you would like to find advice on supporting a loved one click on our Support page where you'll find contacts details for various charities dedicated to helping you.