Finding strength and breaking taboos … Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week around the globe and boy – its been a big one in this house!

Earlier this week my beautiful daughter and I, were asked to film a story for national TV on self harm – how it affected her and how we got through it. She is only 17 years old now, bless her, and when it started, she was only 12. This was an extraordinarily brave and courageous thing for her to do. Most adults I know couldn’t  do this – they would struggle to tell their closest friends, let alone go on camera for a whole country to see.

But this is how we’ve learnt to overcome struggles in our little family of two… we confront them with honesty, love, empathy and understanding. This has helped us develop a method for dealing with pain and trauma and coming out the other side with both a positive outlook and a greater resilience. By sharing our lived experience with others, we want to help those who may not have the strength to confront their pain on their own, as well as encourage those in their support network, how to better understand them.

The response to the interview has been incredible. I have had strangers approach me in tears and thank me for our courage and honesty. People have told me their own stories. It has given some, the strength to speak out and find help. This has made my daughters bravery every bit worthwhile and in turn, helped her own self-confidence.

This is something I talked about on Thursday evening, when I ran a workshop with a group of female University students on strength, resilience and failure. By talking through my own lived experience,  the girls were able to experience honesty and understanding that helped them make sense of some of the issues they are faced with. Being young is so tough these days – we talked about depression, social media, suicide, self-harm, relationships with their parents and their peers and the pressure to succeed.

We approached the subject of positive mental health by discussing  strengths first. I asked them to think about one strength they felt they possessed – not an academic or business strength – an emotional or creative strength. Examples are humour, empathy, courage, honesty, kindness, modesty or open-mindedness. I then encouraged them to think about how this strength could help one person in their life who needed support. I explained, that in doing this, we build our own self-confidence as we highlight our value to another human being, rather than reflect on our own issues constantly.

My daughter did exactly this on Wednesday. She used her emotional strengths; courage, bravery, kindness and  hope to help others – lots of others – and it helped her make sense of her own pain and most importantly, move forward from it with positivity.

This is key – and she said it herself in the interview. When we hit a black hole – we have to find a way to climb out. It may take time, support, professional help and even more pain, to come out the other side, but when you do, the rewards are immense. And they last a lifetime.

Speaking out about an issue as frightening as self-harm was not an easy decision. We both knew the reactions we have had over the last few years from people we have told (including family) who cringed, went silent or quickly changed the subject. Worse than that – plenty judged and still do.

Breaking these taboos is very important to us. It makes me very sad when I encounter those who can not openly talk about pain, sadness, trauma or feelings. This doesn’t mean we need to talk about these things all the time – when we are happy and content we should relish that and let that energy rub off on others  – I’m a cup half full kinda person. But when we are not, we should not deliver the ubiquitous response to someone (close to you) – “I’m fine”. If you are not fine, don’t say you are. I do, however, caution opening up to those you are not close to, don’t have trust in, or know may do you more harm than good. This is important – chose your confidantes carefully in life. This is really important.

I am so unbelievably proud of my little girl for her selflessness and courage. She chose to care more about helping others than how others may judge her. This is surely, one of the greatest lessons in life and when we learn in, and use it, a great gift to our own happiness.

For anyone that wants to watch the interview, or maybe wants to share it with someone who may be in need… here is the link.


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