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Breaking the taboo around mental health issues

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

by Sérgio Martins Batista

It was a great honour for me to accept the challenge of writing about mental health issues. I have been dealing with them all my life. Anxiety, depression, addiction, burn out… You name it. I have been to really dark places, which is why I believe it is so important to talk about it openly and share my experience. Hopefully, you will find this useful. Otherwise, you may realise that mental health issues are far more common than you can imagine - people just don’t talk about them.

Bref (as they say in French). Experience has taught me that the big faux pas is to pretend that everything is fine. It seems easier to keep on smiling, seeing your friends, drinking, having sex with random people or indulging in obsessive behaviour. But the underlying issues will remain, as long as you refuse to face them. This is precisely how we can end up suffering from mental breakdowns.

Having spent a long time riding an emotional rollercoaster, I have adopted a coping method that I am going to share with you. Throughout the day (especially if you have a stressful job or academic programme) you will experience many emotions, sometimes conflicting ones. Try to take some time to yourself and ask: how am I feeling, and why am I feeling like this? Doing this will enable you to put things into perspective and create your own narrative.

Contrary to what people say, reality doesn’t exist. We live in a world of realities. Different people have different perceptions of experiences and the reactions of others. Therefore, make sure you understand what is going on and create a small story; explain to yourself what is happening.

Too complicated? Not really! Imagining the following: lockdown is happening. You are isolated, and unable to meet your friends regularly. It is understandably upsetting. Though you might feel miserable, try to explain to yourself the reasons you have to accept this situation. Can you try to make the best out of it? Maybe now is the time to read that book you’ve always wanted to, or start a new hobby, or even try out some yoga or meditation. Maybe you will be able to connect with people you never considered before: your neighbours, the lady in the bakery…

In a nutshell, you can switch your perception of isolation. Perhaps it is not a ‘punishment’ but an opportunity to do other things and to focus on yourself. From experience, my best ideas have come to me during moments of introspection.

Not convinced? I have another example: your partner has unexpectedly decided to leave you. They (to be gender neutral) used the typical lame excuse “It’s not you, it’s me!”. You really cannot understand why on earth they have taken this sudden decision. This is the moment that you go home, accept that you are sad (don’t go partying or looking for post break up sex), cry like a baby, and talk to yourself. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? How am I going to cope with this? Answering these questions will help you to get some closure and to move on.

Regardless, if it is too late and you think you are already on the ‘rollercoaster’, don’t worry – you will get off of it. In life, the most important thing is not the problem, but the solution. Don’t get me wrong, as a first step you need to acknowledge and accept your problem, so that you can understand it and decide how to act on it. In other words, understanding why you are feeling in a certain way is the basis for change. Be strong! Have an open conversation with yourself, get ready to reach out to others and ask for help.

Here is an exercise that has helped me a lot (credit goes to my shrink):

1. Take same time on your own and talk with yourself openly. Ask the 5 journalistic question: who, where, why, what, how? This will help you to understand what is going on.

2. Express what you are feeling. Did you know that most artists had mental issues? Maybe you can write a text/song/poem about your experiences or even start to painting or composing.

3. Reach out to people who can help. Not the artistic type? Well, the important thing is to express yourself. Contact that wise and understanding friend of yours. Tell them your story and be open to new inputs and takeaways. If you think the talk wasn’t useful, try again with someone else. It doesn’t have to be a friend; a stranger can offer fresh insights.

4. Find your balance by focusing on what matters. Do you know yourself? Do you know what you like and what you don’t? Do you know your strengths and your weaknesses? Where are the limits of your comfort zone, and why are they there? Those are difficult questions. Don’t expect to find a fast answer, but you will for sure feel more balanced once you do.

Finally, since this is the College of Europe, most of you already know me. So, you can always reach out. I am a good listener and a decent storyteller.


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