World Mental Health Day, a day to encourage everyone to take care of their own mental health, as well as the well-being of others around them. Campaigns such as the ‘It’s OK not to be Ok’ movement, have been growing steadily with the aim to support everyone dealing with mental health problems, encouraging people to speak out and share their stories. But beyond these buzzwords and campaigns, understanding mental health, whether that’s because you yourself are suffering from depression or anxiety, or because you have a loved one, a family member or friend who is suffering from a mental health problem, is one of the hardest parts of the battle — getting your head around mental illness is like climbing Mount Everest without a rope.
Almost impossible – right?
This topic is one that has recently been affecting my life more than I ever thought it would, and not because I myself am suffering from any serious mental health issue. Over the past three years my Dad has been suffering from a serious anxiety disorder, which now has also developed into depression. After having a series of panic attacks while he was at work three years ago, the anxiety took hold. At his worst, he couldn’t leave the house, couldn’t be left alone, and had serious trouble sleeping. After counselling and medication things got better, and he went back to work (he works in Germany, so commutes every week or so back to the UK). It seemed like I had my Dad back, the open happy Dad I used to know: my tennis partner, the funny man that laughs at all of his own jokes (I think that’s a Dad thing).
Almost exactly a year later though the anxiety resurfaced, and battle number two was about to commence. After another few months of tears (from the whole family) and work with a psychiatrist, again it seemed my Dad had conquered his demons, and the past year has been great. We got to go on holiday as a family again for the first time since the anxiety had started to dominate our lives, and he was able to come visit me in Munich!
But that’s the thing about mental health, you never know when it will strike again, or in fact how many times it might hit you. So, again my Dad is suffering, and the worst part is, part of me just doesn’t know how to help, and I can’t understand. I know he’ll get through it, he always does, but it’s just a matter of time and patience from himself and the people around him.
I find it hard to write about how my Dad is feeling, and about what he is going through, because he is the only one that really knows. The rest of us just have to listen and learn and hopefully find some clarity. The most important thing is to be aware of people around you, look out for each other, and remember you never really know what someone is going through, so be open and patient, even when it might seem like really hard work.