Today I'm happy to welcome the wonderful Grace Barrett of the Self-Esteem Team to the blog. The Self-Esteem Team, made up of Grace, Natasha Devon and Nadia Mendoza, recently released a book called The Self-Esteem Team's Guide to Sex, Drugs and WTFs?!!! with a foreword by Zoella. It's funny, honest and full of non-sugarcoated advice for young people on topics from mental health and body confidence to drugs and porn - and without being motherly and patronising.
The following guest post is on mental health and how to tell if you or your friend might be having problems. I think this post is incredibly important.
Anyway. I'll pass you over to Grace.
When things go awry in your brain it can be really hard to spot, because you live in there. Day in day out that's your home, changes are normally small at first and you're able to rationalise things in a way that makes sense to you - even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else. Likewise, spotting mental health issues in someone you care about can be tricky, too. Contrary to urban myths having mental health concerns doesn't necessarily mean you have conversations out loud with someone who isn't there or that you're salivating from the mouth, looking vacantly to the horizon.
All the research suggests that being aware of a mental health mishap early on is important. Starting treatment (be that therapy or medication) and monitoring yourself to see if it's progressing or changing is the key to recovery and/or living with it. So, how?
Get to know (yourself and your mates)
Having a handle on the norm; energy levels, sleep pattern, temper, relationships with others etc will help you notice if something's changed, both for yourself and your friends. If you feel you're getting frustrated more quickly than usual or that you're sleeping/eating much more or much less than before for example that might be a sign something isn't quite right. Also if you notice your friends making decisions that seem out of the norm for them for prolonged periods of time, it might be worth questioning their thought process. If things don't add up, tell them, challenge their desire to behave a certain way (if they can't give up that workout for one day, for example, this could be an indicator of an unhealthy relationship with exercise) be aware of these things moving forward.
Some people are really very good at appearing as their normal selves when everything isn't as it should be. It may not be that they're trying to deliberately hide things as such but that they're trying to act normally in order to feel normal, or that they don't want to bring the people around them down etc. The trouble is that all kinds of negative things can happen in the space between the reality you show to the world and the reality you're living - from negative thoughts to harmful behaviours. But if you already have good communication between friends and family it will be easier to let them know something doesn't feel right and also easier to spot it if you're the one on the other side. Sometimes telling someone you don't feel ok is more than enough to spark some sort of change or to dig a little deeper to work out what's going on.
Keep a diary
If you feel like something might not be right, each day write down the cold hard facts around how much sleep you had, what you ate and drank, the people you spent time with, the types of interactions you had and then how you felt during them. This will help you spot patterns in your behaviour and potentially things that might spark behaviour that doesn't feel like you or low moods etc. That gives you something to talk to the doctor or a family member about, it helps you rationalise your feelings and it can provide useful solutions for what to do next.
And remember, we're human beings. We are not supposed to be in a continual state of contentment or happiness. Eb and flow is what makes life wonderful however, if something really doesn't feel right, trust your instinct and try to get to the bottom of it. Once you have, you can develop strategies to make living in your brain easier. Ignoring a mental health issue normally doesn't make it go away, be brave and listen to your gut.