Recently, I caught up with a friend for coffee. We had so much of fun reminiscing the great times and shared memories of the past. However, after a while of casual chat and some initial hesitation, she opened up to me that she was seeing a clinical therapist for her anxiety issues. I am not going to lie; shock was my initial response. All that I have known about mental health therapies and treatments are mostly from movies that depicted psychotic villains and so on.
But sitting in front of me, was one of the most vibrant and easy-going women I have ever seen in my life! What could be bothering her mind so much that she had to seek professional help? And based on what she told me, I realized that clinical therapy is not cheap either. I had so many questions in my mind, but I did not know what to say as I did not want to accidently trigger her.
All I asked her was, “Tell me, how can I help you as a friend in this particular journey of yours?”
Her eyes swelled with tears with that question. She took a deep breath and thanked me for not trying to offer any first-hand advice. “You have no idea the frustration I feel when people ask me to just take a break, or go eat my favourite food, take a nap, exercise and so on… don’t you think I know all that? Don’t you think I’ve tried all that?… it just does not work that way.”
She went on to describe her anxiety symptoms, triggers and the aftermath of the attacks she gets. She even told me about her experience with clinical therapy on how a real professional has been helping her to process her supressed emotions, childhood trauma and much more. At the end of the day, the only thing that changed her life was taking the first step by walking into a psychiatry clinic and signing up to talk to a complete stranger about her deepest fears and unresolved problems.
My view on her totally changed. When she first told me about her therapy, along with shock, I felt a lot of pity for her. But an hour later, I realized that I was having a good cup of coffee with one of the strongest women I have ever met in my life! A small part of me changed that day as well.
Ever since then, I have been paying more attention to news and articles about mental health awareness. Apparently, I became even more alarmed to find out from an online article that that one in three Malaysian adults aged 16 years and above seems to undergo a mental health condition (based on a national survey by the Ministry of Health).
What I am trying to say is, let’s not try to play therapist to our family and friends when they tell you that they are going through depression or anxiety. Trust me, they already know that they need to sleep well, eat good food and exercise regularly. They do not need to hear it for the millionth time from us. All they need is emotional support. Try to just spend some quality time with them, doing something that works for both of you when they reach out. Again, there is no point in trying to pressure them to face their realities when they are not ready themselves either. Just let them be. Build mental health awareness for yourself so that when your family and friends reach out to you, you can be there for them in ways that do not worsen their conditions.
And who knows, in doing so, you might discover that you, yourself may have some underlying mental health issues that you need to work on after all! Remember, you do not need to pick up a knife and start butchering people to realize that you may have mental health issues; losing sleep 5 nights in a row itself is a pretty good start.
Dr. Sarala Thulasi Palpanadan
Center for Language Studies
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)