Words by Safiyyah Hanif
When we think of taboo topics we often think sex, abortion, and religion. However, we often forget that the matters of the mind can also fall into this category. Mental health has been stigmatized time and time again and it is about time we made a change. The media lately has ensured that more awareness is being raised and more people continue to speak up about their experiences - yet somehow revealing our deepest thoughts still seems forbidden, it still feels wrong. Tell your friends that you are excited or in love and they want to hear all about it, but if you dare mention that you feel really anxious today or had a depressive episode then the conversation becomes difficult and results in an abrupt change of topic or uncomfortable silence whenever the words become increasingly intimate. Some of us are lucky to have loved ones who will indulge in those conversations, but for the most part we find ourselves feeling ashamed or embarrassed to share our stories.
Telling someone your thoughts, feelings, and real emotions should never be considered as too forward or as attention-seeking. We need to talk openly, honestly, and freely about what we feel or what we are going through without the fear of judgement or rejection. Speaking about our most intimate emotions is inevitably going to be uncomfortable, particularly when tackling emotions such as fear, sadness, or anxiety. There is a common misconception that this vulnerability makes us weak, but that is simply not true. Everyone experiences these emotions so why do we hide them and bury them deep when sharing them could be so much more powerful? Being vulnerable is admittedly incredibly difficult and closing yourself off can seem like the easiest option, but suppressed feelings will never allow you to reach your full potential. We talk so easily about a broken arm or leg so why should a fractured mind or our emotional pain be any different? We must stop associating our feelings and the expression of these feelings with shame. Sharing will not only help you, but it will also help others to realize they are not alone and give them the courage to voice their experiences, too. Often, not sharing can just as easily push people away whilst opening up to them can form and strengthen our relationships, therefore the ability to be able to share allows us to relate to each other and creates a real human connection and bond that is pretty powerful.
Not only can we change the way we feel about talking to others, but we can also change the way we respond when others share their thoughts with us. Take a moment to consider it from another’s perspective, the time and courage it has taken for them to express how they are feeling and allow this to shape the way you respond. You might feel pity, sympathy, or just plain discomfort, but take a minute to think, because your response could change this person’s entire world. The wrong words could cause so much more hurt and disappointment whilst the right words could offer them so much hope and reassurance.
It is widely known that females have an easier time expressing themselves emotionally than men. Men find that they have more barriers to break through in order to feel comfortable sharing their emotive thoughts and this is perhaps a culprit for the high numbers of male suicides.
Nonetheless, men experience all the emotions of hurt, anger, sadness, and fear that women do and we should never consider them as weak for admitting that. In fact, every time a man does speak up, it only ever makes us more respectful of them and draws us closer, helping us to identify that expression and confession is never about creating division but about coming together.
Revolutionizing our conversations about our mental health is a learning process for everyone, but the liberation that follows is one that will also transform our relationships and quality of life. Whether you simply share small daily stresses or choose to tackle a larger, more intense issue, everything that affects your mental health is equally important to talk about. Sharing our problems when they seem small can prevent them from escalating; knowing that you have a support system in place will no doubt make you feel stronger and more capable to tackle any part of you that feels broken, no matter how small. Whether we are old or young, male or female, we all face issues of exam stress or work performance, we all have times when we face relationship issues, body image, anxiety, depression, and often worse. Not talking about them does not mean they will cease to exist so we may as well embrace them and stop hiding. Let us be proud of what we have experienced, accept we are experiencing, and be bold in overcoming what we will experience.
Safiyyah Hanif is an English Literature student who believes words are our most powerful weapon. She wants to use her voice to help others and pave the way for more honest and open conversations that deal with the matters of the mind and heart.