Everyone’s mental health is different. No two people experience their environment in the same way, and so the pressures and difficulties we face at LSE are as diverse as the student body itself. This blog is an exploration of how people from all walks of life approach and understand their mental wellbeing, be it with diagnosable conditions or just dealing with the pressures of university life.
The half-way point in the term is a good time for reflection. With reading week gives most people some time away from LSE, many people will be thinking about how their term has gone, and what they want to change. All the articles I’ve written so far, I realize they’ve all essentially reached the same conclusion – share more, hide less.
This is easy for someone like me; I clearly don’t have much trouble being open. But it’s worth acknowledging that sharing with another person can be extremely difficult.
This realization came as I chatted with this week’s interviewee. As extroverted and talkative as I am, my friend has no inhibitions when discussing the details of her mental health. Indeed, she talks with a characteristically engaging and positive manner even when discussing quite dark topics. But this openness doesn’t come naturally.
As we grapple with our mental health we ask ourselves is “who should I talk to about this?”. It’s definitely worthwhile: we don’t want to share things with just anyone and Tuns on a Friday isn’t the perfect environment to discuss depression.
This question can lead to much less constructive thoughts. “Do they really want to know?” and “Is it fair for me to burden them with this?” are negative versions of the same idea. These questions can become all-consuming and make it seem increasingly appealing to keep our problems to ourselves. Why should we concern other people with our difficulties when they probably have plenty of their own problems?
When we ask this question, we are met with the same trite slogan: “a problem shared is a problem halved.” But this has been overused to the point of meaninglessness. So how can we justify sharing our problems?
The answer, my friend explains, lies in reciprocity. Mutuality is the basis of most good relationships – it’s likely that you and your best friend find each other funny, buy each other drinks, and make excuses for each other when you don’t turn up to lectures. We can apply this dynamic to our mental health.
Emotional reciprocity can be hard to establish – it requires personal closeness and unapologetic honesty from both parties. But its benefits can be manifold – my friend talks of how her mutually supportive relationship with her boyfriend has allowed her to develop other, more open, and more meaningful relationships with friends from all walks of life.
If we can resist the temptation to view our mental health as a burden and see it in terms of reciprocity and mutual support, then the concept of sharing it becomes much less daunting. Indeed, rather than burdening our friends, we may be helping them. Sharing our problems gives others explicit permission to share their own worries with us and can often make them feel less alone in our struggles.
Is a problem shared a problem halved? No. But neither is it a problem doubled. Being open may be beneficial for ourselves, but it can also be beneficial for the people we share with. Awareness of this may well be the first step towards feeling more open, and less ashamed of the problems we all face.