It’s good to talk

It’s OK to not be OK


Illness: serious, life-threatening, life-changing, life-taking illness affects us all at some point or another. Whether it afflicts us in person or our friends, loved ones, colleagues or neighbours, at some point we will all know several people who have had or who have serious illnesses.

So we do what we can do to help. We mop brows, we offer to take over laundry duties, take round lasagnes for the freezer or butterscotch brownies to tempt back a recaltricant appetite. In terms of the bigger picture, we don our pink tutus and jog round our local parks for 5k or the braver ones take on the marathon and half-marathon challenges. Even if we do none of these things, we dutifully fill out our envelopes at the many industry dinners and sit back, knowing that we’ve helped a little in funding the fight against these various awful diseases.

When those illnesses are obvious and physical, it’s easier to get our heads round them because we can see that someone has been physically affected. But what about when none of it is visible? When people are their usual selves on the outside and hurting so, so badly on the inside.

Mental health is, thankfully, finally, getting the attention it needs as a real issue for so many people. It’s gaining a higher profile because high profile people are talking about it and encouraging others to do likewise. I, for one, am really looking forward to the Jonny Benjamin and Neil Layborne talk at the BMF Conference, having been one who followed the Finding Mike story and wept copiously at the subsequent documentary (whoever ends up sitting next to me in Dubrovnik, be warned – I’m a blubber!)

I’m writing this on a train, speeding through the Midlands on a glorious, sunny late Spring afternoon. Diverted, alas, from the main line by, not one, but two, fatalities on the line. No trains out of Euston for hours and delays on the alternative route for exactly the same reason. I’ve known too many people affected by this issue to complain about being delayed – if I only get to my destination in time for the pudding then so what? (In the end, I missed the speeches and awards, but made it for the starter. Result)

We take our mental health, and that of the people around us, for granted. It’s one of those things that you only really appreciate when it is threatened or gone. There was a TV programme the other day that looked at the huge number of suicides and attempted suicides in the construction industry. That’s so scary. Is it because we work in an industry that’s supposedly full of chaps who are the strong silent types? Is it because there’s so much pressure yet nowhere for people to turn to to talk about the issue?

Whether it’s anxiety, depression, psychosis, stress, we all know people who have been hit hard with one or other of these at some point or another. We need to ensure that whether we are businesses or individuals, we are aware that sometimes, not everything in the garden is as rosy as it might seem on the outside. We also need to know that this issue will affect everyone differently, because we are all different. It’s good to talk. It’s OK not to talk if that’s what you need at that point. It’s OK to not to be OK.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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