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Mental Health Awareness: Don’t suffer in Silence - Tell someone if you need help

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, our writer and mental health nurse Chris Sparks takes us away from football for a moment to talk about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. 

Carlisle United v Everton - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

The prevalence of mental health is something that is often underestimated, with 1 in 6 of us having experienced a common mental health problem in the past week. Mental health problems such as depression are the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and yet the awareness surrounding such issues are minimal in comparison to physical health problems.

Despite a dramatic improvement in recent years surrounding the awareness and acceptance of mental health, the stigma still remains, often by those who are living with mental health. Many of us will live with some sort of mental health problem throughout our lives, with many living with mental health every day of their lives. Some days will be tougher than others. However, suffering in silence is not the answer - the day that you can find the strength to manage your own mental health and speak about it will be the day that you begin to control your own mental health and learn to cope with it. Many of us, myself included, like to pretend to everyone that we are fine, but people do want to listen and help, both personally and professionally.

Speaking and confronting your own mental health is perhaps the greatest thing anyone can do for themselves. Mental health is an illness like any other physical problem - there is no shame in speaking out and sharing your story. No issue is too big or too small and everything effects everyone in different ways, it’s what makes us all individually unique. I’ve seen both professionally and personally with close friends and relatives about what can happen when you don’t speak up or acknowledge your own need for help. Again, there is no shame in resorting to these sort of means, but there is always a better alternative, one with less pain for yourself and loved ones.

This week we’ve seen Celebrity gobshite Piers Morgan telling people to ‘man-up’ when speaking about mental health and their ways of coping with this. People like Piers, especially those who are in the public eye, are narrow-minded and quite frankly a disgrace to themselves and an insult to anyone who lives with mental health or cares for those living with mental health. This type of perspective on mental health is poisonous and dated. The idea that men have to have this macho persona and that nothing can affect them is farfetched and is one of the main reason why suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged between 20 and 34 in the United Kingdom, with the North-East of England having the highest rate of male suicides in the country. You will be hard pushed to find someone who has not been effected by suicide in our region, and yet we are one of the most advanced regions for addressing mental health, with the NTW trust being the largest mental health trust in the NHS; this just further emphasises the importance of speaking out about your own mental health.

Hibernian v Aberdeen - Scottish Cup Semi-Final
Hibernian manager Neil Lennon has spoken out this week about his own mental health issues
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

I saw something on twitter earlier today, an inspiring story from a man who lives with depression, and how football saved his life.

Finding something or someone you love is a fantastic coping strategy and can provide a distraction for anyone living with mental health. Although supporting a North-East football team from the outside will probably seem to be a symptom for a mental health problem. However, up there in the football hotbed of the North-East England we feel a sense of community and togetherness about our football teams. We share experiences on a weekly basis, and yes, most of them are awful, but I don’t really think that matters. It’s more about the feeling of having people around you, having that support and common love. Speaking about the football with groups of men and women, meeting new people, creating memories and feeling emotions that those living with mental health probably haven’t felt for most of their week. It’s not just football that can help mental health, it could be anything, this is just a great example of how it can help anybody through tough times, myself included. Footballers such as Clarke Carlisle and Aaron Lennon have publicly been affected by mental health, and despite the sadness of the cases, this can only help raise awareness within the sport and wider community.

Having worked within the mental health sector and coping with my own mental health in the past, I can assure each and every one of you that there is a positive outcome for anyone who seeks help and speaks out. One of the main things I have seen in my time has been that the person living with mental health “felt stupid” when speaking about their problems, this is far from the truth. It is important to not pass off your own mental health, whether it be a bereavement, miscarriage, end of a relationship, even all the way to ‘small things’ such as exam stress, school etc.

Beyond Sport 2016 - Day Two - 10 Roundtables
Clarke Carlisle
Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images

Awareness is a key issue and one that is being addressed well within public health at present, including the fantastic Mental Health Awareness Week. I encourage everyone to search the hashtag on social media, read the stories of others and even share your own story if you feel able to do so. With greater awareness comes greater knowledge, and knowledge is power. I’m a firm believer that one-day society will perceive mental health just as they do with physical health, and although the search for a ‘cure’ will be a great challenge, finding ways to cope and live with mental health is a much more achievable and timely goal.

Whether you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, these helplines can offer expert advice. www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mental-health-helplines.aspx