It’s World Mental Health Day today.
Mental Health used to be something you whispered about, something secret, there weren’t words for what people experienced when they were struggling with their mental health.
Unseen it was just a collection of inexplicable symptoms, that could make people unpredictable and behave out of character. They were often shunned by society.
Fast forward to 2019 we’re better at talking about things, we have diagnoses for mental illnesses, we have medication that works. We have royals discussing their actual feelings about things, sportspeople discussing their struggles and a whole day dedicated to continuing this work.
We have progressed, but there is still a long way to go. I used to be Head of Media at Samaritans, constantly trying to reach audiences with messages about emotional resilience, encouraging people through campaigns to look out for friends and for family members. Encouraging people to consciously create genuine relationships with people that went beyond surface pub chats.
One narrative we’re trying to change here at Little Box of Books is the one about children expressing feelings, especially boys. I can’t count how many times my son has been called brave for not crying when he has hurt himself falling off his bike or tripping over his too big shoes. My mantra has always been, ‘it’s OK to cry’ but somewhere, somehow he has absorbed the idea that big boys don’t cry.
We all know the expression ‘man up’, don’t show how you feel, take it on the chin, don’t show your hurt. But the thing is, we’re all human. And one of the greatest things about us is our capacity to feel. We get to feel joy and excitement, we laugh when something is funny, we enjoy looking at a beautiful view.
But it is so much less socially acceptable, especially for boys and men to express pain, sadness, loneliness, fear. Anger yes. But not the hundreds of other feelings that go through us because of our humanness.
We regularly put books in our boxes that help children learn vocabulary for feelings, so they can talk about them fluently. We want to teach children that all feelings are normal and to give them tools and coping mechanisms to express those feelings.
Telling them to hide how they feel, to bottle it up, encouraging them to be stoic and silent does not work. It’s like constantly filling a tyre with air, one day it’s going to pop.
The silent killer
Going back to some statistics from Samaritans.
In the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women
One of the reasons for this is that men are less likely to talk than women. This is societal conditioning, myths such as vulnerability is weakness and how can you look after your family if you’re emotionally weak are peddled and then internalised by men who are struggling to cope.
It is in our power to protect our children from this. Talk about feelings, don’t shy away from big emotions, talk about finding ways through and make it easy for children to come to you with their worries and concerns. Don’t always find solutions, just listen. Look after each other.