It has never been more important to speak up about our mental health

We all know mental health problems are rife now, and only set to rise. It’s

We all know mental health problems are rife now, and only set to rise. It’s no wonder – after six months of living a radically different lifestyle, we face further uncertainty, the possibility of more restrictions, and for many, loss of jobs and income.

According to a recent ONS survey, the age groups suffering most from anxiety are the over-65s and younger adults. A survey of 16,338 people carried out by MIND in April and May found that half of adults and over two-thirds of young people – particularly those already suffering from eating disorders, personality disorders and OCD – have experienced a worsening of their conditions since lockdown.

Respondents attributed this primarily to the imposed restrictions, both social and physical. More worryingly, one in three adults and one in four young people didn’t even try to access mental health services because they didn’t think they deserved support. Of those who did, one in four failed to receive help.

Meanwhile, without that support, the most common coping strategies were over- or under-eating, using alcohol or drugs (especially among young adults), self-harming, and – thankfully – connecting with family and friends online. An interesting paradox is that although connecting online with friends and family has been a popular coping technique, a number of respondents said the use of phone/video technology was a major reason they didn’t access mental health services. It seems we feel comfortable talking this way with those we already know, but less so with professionals we’ve not met.

This suggests that a better approach from mental health services would be to offer help to small groups of people who already know one another rather than to individuals. But there’s also a need for greater assertiveness among those who would like help. After all, although one in four in the MIND survey who sought help didn’t receive it, that leaves three in four who did.

If you’re feeling depressed, particularly if you’re also suffering from low self-esteem, it’s common to assume you’re not ‘worthy’ of receiving support. But the truth is, we inflict more suffering on ourselves, and risk lowering self-esteem even further when we’re not explicit about our needs, as Keith Petrie and Mary Jane Rotheram at Massey University in New Zealand found.

They asked 106 firefighters to record levels of occupational stress and general anxiety. Stress levels didn’t vary significantly according to participants’ job rank, job experience or personal life circumstances. However, those who were more assertive had higher levels of self-esteem and reported significantly lower stress.

How can you become more assertive so you can seek the help you deserve? Be prepared. Write down what you intend to say. Is your request clear and precise? Then practise it – out loud – until you feel confident. Pay attention to the words you use. Instead of complaining, or blaming or criticising others, explain what you want in positive, specific terms. Make your request clear and specific, without apology. Persevere. Everyone is currently under pressure and may be slow to respond. Keep asking, politely but persistently.

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