Mental health: When you're not ready to ask for help

Fiona Thomas

Just because you've identified you need some help doesn't mean you're ready to ask for it from an external source. Here's how to take care of yourself before you're ready to talk to others

Nearly half of British adults over the age of 55 say they have experienced depression and a similar number have suffered from anxiety, according to YouGov research for Age UK. Although yearly campaigns such as Time to Talk Day—which takes place on 7th February —aim to get the nation talking about mental health, one in four say that older people still find it difficult to approach the subject. 

It’s only in recent years that talking publicly about mental illness has become socially acceptable (JK Rowling and Prince William have both spoken to the media on the subject) and many of us still don’t feel comfortable opening up about our feelings. Most of us have been conditioned to ignore the symptoms and maintain a stiff upper lip in fear of embarrassment or ridicule. Luckily, there are many other ways to address your mental health concerns if you would rather not announce it to the world just yet. 

 

Writing 

When you can’t find the words to say how you feel writing can be a powerful tool. The act of journaling can boost your mood, enhance your sense of well-being, reduce symptoms of depression and improve your working memory. In particular, it’s thought that writing about past experiences can help us confront emotions that we are subconsciously avoiding.

If you would rather not write about negative emotions, you can simply keep a factual log of what you’ve done and how it made you feel. When completed over an extended period of time this can help you make connections between low moods and specific experiences. For example, do you notice you feel low on days when you have not left the house? Similarly, you may also find that your mood is improved when you’re around people you love. 

This data can help you make adjustments to your routine and avoid places or people that trigger bad feelings. Having all this information written down in black and white might also give you the motivation to seek professional help and handing over your notes to a doctor will help them make an accurate diagnosis and offer the best treatment. 

 

Reading 

Reading can provide insight for people struggling with mental illness for a variety of reasons. It can help ease feelings of loneliness and—depending on the literature—offer you ideas on how to proceed in terms of getting help. 

According to JJ Bola, the poet and author of No Place to Call Home, “The world can get you so down you feel like you’re the only person going through what you’re going through. But then you read and you realise that you are not alone; that if someone else has gone through it and survived, then maybe you can, too.” 

Reading stories about people who have recovered from mental illness is an enjoyable way to distract yourself whilst learning about ways to understand your own situation. 

 

Research

Sometimes the act of finding out more about mental illness can give you the confidence to ask for help. Many people with depression feel that they are “not sick enough” to seek professional help and that they have “nothing to be depressed about”. This feeling is common, and actually a lot of people with serious depression do appear to be very successful from an outsider’s perspective. When you take a closer look, you’ll understand that this voice, sometimes known as the inner critic, is all part of the illness itself. 

The Mind website has a huge database full of downloadable PDFs that give details on a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Each section has information on symptoms, causes, self-care, treatment, useful contacts and links to specific issues that you may not realise are related to mental illness such as anger, eating problems and loneliness. 

 

Self-expression

When you’re feeling mentally unwell it can sometimes be impossible to find the words to explain how you feel. Art therapy can increase self-awareness, boost self-esteem, help manage addictions and reduce anxiety and depression. 

“Often creativity helps you to express parts of yourself that are being hidden,” says Dr Sheridan Linnell, who runs the Master of Art Therapy course at the University of Western Sydney. “Expression through art can be healing in itself, and it can also be a stepping stone for being able to make sense of yourself and express your story to others.”

The best part is that you can try creative therapy from the comfort of your own home. One successful artist named Stuart explains that he uses art as a way to cope with panic attacks. After a near-fatal incident he was confined to his room, unable to leave. Eventually, he learned to express how he feels through doodling and still uses it to cope with feelings of anxiety 

“You don’t have to be good at art to do this. In fact, it’s better if you don’t think about it too much. In the early stages (of anxiety) I grab my sketchbook…. as I get absorbed in that I take a look at it and my anxious feelings have subsided.”

If drawing isn’t your thing you can try painting, collaging, photography, knitting, colouring in or writing a letter to yourself or a friend.

 

Online support

Online support can be a useful way to build a support network when you don't feel able to talk to someone face to face. Online forums like Elefriends and Big White Wall are specifically for anyone struggling with their mental health. You can also see Mind’s help on seeking support online and how to stay safe online

Alternatively, the internet can provide support without the need to engage with anyone directly. There are lots of websites and YouTube videos created by people who are willing to chat about how they feel and this can be comforting to people who feel like no one else understands.

Find out more about Time to Talk Day