We’ve been having some great conversations on mental health on the radio lately and it’s made me think quite a lot about different aspects of how we talk about it.
I think the easiest when talking about mental health is to base your thoughts on your personal experience and the experience of those who you know best, who talked to you about their issues and the friends you’ve tried to help.
My family has a history of depression. It’s started with my grandad who started experiencing pains in his abdomen when he was about 30. He tried to get to the root of the problem by going to so many doctors we’ve lost count. All they could say was it was psychological.
Somehow, the pain disappeared just as suddenly as it had come up. However, it came back about 12 years ago, in his 60s and he’s been dealing with it ever since. He’s on a number of drugs for his depression and he has bad days and good days, whole years that are better than others and the pain it’s causing him is immense, I can see it.
On the same part of the family, his sisters also deal with similar symptoms and it’s something that is acknowledged as part of our history. Depression is not 100% hereditary, but it is believed that genetic influence can be responsible for causing it.
I didn’t really truly understand depression until I saw it firsthand affecting a close friend. And this is where things get tricky and I think there’s a discussion to be had around immigration and mental health.
I’ve had quite a privileged experience as an immigrant, coming to the UK to study at university. However, there are people who aren’t as lucky and go through a turmoil of emotions when moving to another country.
All of us go though experience similar emotions and have a lot in common. When relocating, for whatever reason, your emotional state is quite fragile. Stress is added and cultural differences make everything more difficult – from going to the grocery store (where all the food is different than what you’re used to) to working and having a social life.
Everything has the added pressure of succeeding because you’ve left your home country to get a better life, but everything is harder or at least different, so an adjustment period is crucial.
My friend was wise enough to seek help when she saw that she needed it. She went to a psychologist and talked about her problems. We were 19 and in a foreign country and she trusted a doctor, a professional, with her issues.
What then what this person did was just mind blowing. Instead of providing support and coping mechanisms, they took the easy way out and suggested that my friend might consider going back home to her country if she was feeling stressed and depressed.
What I didn’t understand at the time and I still don’t is how someone can be so reckless with their words when they see someone seeking their professional opinion. When a person is going through a lot and trying to achieve something in their life, through all the means they have available, advice shouldn’t be stop trying and maybe you’ll be happier.
It’s like a highly skilled manager going to therapy complaining about stress and the therapist suggesting they should quit their job.
Moving to another country is not a decision people make lightly. We think about it and make sacrifices. It affects and define who you are as a person for the rest of your life and it gives you amazing opportunities of growth and personal development.
It is also one of the most stressful things anyone can do and it can take a toll on you. Talking about mental health in a positive way and trying to find ways and support to deal with issues is crucial. There should be training for medical professionals to pay more attention and have more empathy to people who might be experiencing depression just because they don’t feel understood. Telling someone to go home is proving how much you misunderstand their situation as well.