Written by Emma Conaghan
At the age of eleven I was asked at a secondary school interview ‘If you could take a pill that would make you happy forever, would you?’. Overwhelmed by such an intense question eleven-year-old Emma answered yes, because in theory who wouldn’t love the prospect of permanent happiness? On reflection, however, if I was asked this question today at the grant old age of nineteen, I would say no as I believe embracing the shitty times in life is important.
The University of Toronto did a study on how negative emotions influence psychological health. As part of the study, 222 subjects had to record in a journal any bad experiences they had in a two-week period and what emotions they experienced as a result. The study showed that those who avoided responding with negative emotions were more likely to experience anxiety and depression, compared to those who embraced their negative emotions. I would never claim that we should enjoy feeling low but embracing the down days can help us as humans to maintain agency over our mental health.
As an individual, being open about my mental health has been something that I have had to put a lot of work into. Feeling vulnerable is something I have feared for so long and in many cases, something that I still fear. A lot of people have described me as ‘the put together friend’ or the ‘friend who never cries.’ However, this is not always the truth. The negative emotions I have felt and the tears I have cried is something I used to feel embarrassed about sharing with others.
I know now THAT FEELING SAD IS A NORMAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE!! This may seem so obvious but many people still feel shame behind it and don’t want to burden the people with their problems when they feel low. In a study done by the Mental Health Foundation in 2022, they found that more than 35% of UK adults say they would never admit to feeling sad or lonely. I used to fit in this statistic but have now learned that a problem shared is a problem halved.
I still do sometimes feel exposed when opening up about my feelings and do sometimes experience guilt for ‘dumping’ my problems on someone. However, I know now that my loved ones want to be there for me in whatever way they can, in the same way I want to be there for them, no matter how big or small the problem is. If you thought you had broken your leg would you keep it to yourself and not go to the doctor, because you don’t want to ‘bother’ them with your problem? NO! Then why would we stay quiet when we need help repairing our mental health.
As a nineteen-year-old living in the 21st century, there is no surprise that I struggle with anxiety. To be completely transparent, there are days when I am visited by a physical anxiety knot in my stomach. Often when I share this with people, they try to give me solutions on what I can do for an instant fix: write down five things you are grateful for, go for a walk, watch TV or run yourself a bath. While these can all lead to a temporary relief from the bitter feeling of anxiety, there is the potential that this will just lead to the suppression of it, and may allow the anxiety to have grown when it next appears. But if we welcome the anxiety, depression or whatever other negative emotions we as humans may experience, then we can teach ourselves to understand it. As a result of this we will be more likely to understand it and overcome it.
Psychologist, Jelena Kecmanovic describes being anxious as “quicksand, the more you fight it the deeper you sink.”
Unfortunately, in many groups of people, talking about mental health is seen as ‘taboo.’ It is this attitude that leads people to dark places. Men are often guilty of avoiding this subject. In a survey done by the Priory Group in the UK, 40% of men admit they have never opened up about their mental health. In 2021, 75% of suicides in the UK were committed by men. Similarly, at this time of year many people struggle with ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD). It affects over 500,000 people in the US and can mimic symptoms of clinical depression.
While I am still young and have a lot of learning to do, one of the greatest lessons I have learnt in life is that It really is ok to feel not ok.
‘Good days give happiness
Bad days give experience
Worst days give lessons
The best days give memories.’
If you are reading this and feel you are struggling with any sort of mental health issue, no matter how big or small remember you are not alone. Please speak to someone whether that be a family member, a friend, a teacher, a therapist or one of the helpline numbers below. No mental health issue is untreatable and so don’t leave it untreated.
Samaritans – 116 123
SANEline – 0300 304 7000
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) 0800 58 58 58
Suicide Prevention UK- 0800 689 5652
No Panic: 0300 772 9844
Youth Helpline- 0330 606 1174
OCD Action – 0300 636 5478
Social Anxiety UK – www.social-anxiety.org.uk
England – 0808 801 0677
Scotland – 0808 801 0432
Wales- 0808 801 0433
Northern Ireland- 0808 801 0434
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