Mental health: Why it’s not as invisible you might think

Most of us are familiar with the term ‘the invisible illness’ when it comes to mental health issues – and while that may be true to an extent, I don’t think it’s half as invisible as people seem to think it is.

The issues we experience could be considered largely internal, but I don’t think it always remains that way. Of course, there are those who have mastered the ability to mask any difficulty they’re going through (as someone rather sensitive, I have never been able to do this myself). Even so, it seems to me that we all could all do with keeping a better eye on the people around us.

My giveaway

Now, I can’t speak for every person dealing with any mental health problems (but you guys knew that, right?) but I certainly have ‘giveaways’ when I’m having a bit of a rougher time. These are little indications or behaviours that something isn’t quite right – and in some cases, could even be recognised as ‘tics’.

It goes beyond the ‘just feeling nervous’ thing – trust me, we’ve all gone a bit red and started talking fast at one point or another. You’re not on your own there.

What I’m referring to is more an uncontrollable urge or sub-conscious habit. Sometimes this is happens because of preoccupation or seeking some form of relief, but it can also be far more serious – such as in the case of self-harm.

I have a very obvious physical ‘giveaway’ for when I’m feeling anxious or particularly sensitive: picking the ever-living hell out of the clothes I’m wearing or an object in front of me.

It’s not cute. It ruins a lot of sleeves and also seems to lead to jokes about sexual frustration (bit of a weird one that, because I’d rather not say ‘OH NO LOL I’M JUST REALLY FUCKING ANXIOUS RIGHT NOW’).

The thing is, as much as it’s irritating for me (I don’t know why I do it), it can actually be quite useful for those around me. My boyfriend is pretty attuned to this particular characteristic of mine and will sweetly ask why I’m ‘bobbling’ my jumper – do I want to talk about anything?

And that invitation is rather valuable – because a lot of the time I really want to. I’m just not very good at bringing it up.

Has someone you know stopped caring?

I remember being surprised that one of the first things I got asked when being assessed for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was how often I was washing. Like, myself. Showering, brushing my hair, cleaning my teeth, even the clothes I wore were all considered important factors in assessing my mental state.

Disclaimer: obviously not the only factors, and hey, sometimes I just can’t be arsed that day.

But in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. In fact, if I’d stopped to consider that I spent more time laying in bed in the morning than I did making myself look presentable at work, I probably would’ve sought help a lot sooner.

I mean – how many of us put in any effort whatsoever on a hangover day because we feel terrible? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that if your state of mind ain’t great, your exterior may not be at its finest either.

The reason I bring this up is because it should be pretty easy to tell if someone close to you has stopped caring. It can be little things, like they…

  • don’t seem ‘themselves’
  • seem withdrawn and don’t contribute to conversations/laugh/smile as much
  • seem less concerned with their appearance/look a bit scruffy
  • look tired/yawn a lot/seem to rely on a source of caffeine
  • sigh often
  • look like they might have been crying
  • seem less ‘settled’ or in a perpetual state of discomfort

It’s funny, because I was exhibiting lots of these behaviours a few weeks before I took sick leave. The above, over a prolonged period of time, should prompt a ‘Hey, are you okay?’.

I know it’s not that simple

Obviously there are lots of people that won’t do any of those things. Of course you also can’t tell just by looking at someone the severity of their issues. Mental health is too complex to be boiled down to a set of simple behaviours – that’s why it can take years to get a diagnosis. I’m really keen to not position this as some easy-to-spot problem.

What I would like, however, is for people to be more attuned to some of the early warning signs. You can’t solve people’s issues for them, but you can certainly be the one that starts that conversation. You can let that person know that their issues aren’t invisible – and they matter.

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