For Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we are introducing a series of interviews we've had with some truly inspirational mental health activists in hopes to share their stories, help raise awareness and spread a bit of positivity.
First up, we have Tom Davies, the host of The Proper Mental Podcast which aims to normalise having open and open conversations about mental health. Here's Tom rocking his Leiho t-shirt and bamboo socks in style:
Tell us about yourself and how you got into the mental health world:
"I started to struggle with my mental health in 2016 and I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know what was happening. I was dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation by myself which led to a breakdown. I went into therapy and tried to take better care of myself, but it didn’t really work. And I didn’t want to admit that it didn’t work, so I went back to my default setting which was not telling anyone, which carried on for a few more years and unfortunately ended up in another breakdown. This one was much bigger, I had to take time off of work and actually started to plan to take my own life. I got a very timely intervention from my aunty who was a nurse who gave me some other things to think about and convinced me to get more help. And this time, I committed to the process and part of that recovery process was talking about stuff and that showed me the power of conversation. When I heard other people talking openly and honestly – it made me feel less lonely, made me feel seen, it made me feel normal. And I realised how normal it is to have these emotions, feelings and thoughts. That’s where the podcast came from, I wanted to do something to help. I didn’t want anyone to go through what I went through. If I could host these type of conversations that people can relate to and listen to and realise that they’re not on their own, to make them feel seen, heard and connect on that deeper level."
Do you think there’s still a stigma around mental health nowadays?
"I think it’s definitely improving but there’s still a lot of stigma. With the whole mental health conversation, it’s something that some people know about and some people don’t. And if you don’t, you don’t know about it until you NEED to know about it. I was poorly for a long time and I had absolutely no idea what was going on, I didn’t know about the support groups, charities and so on and it’s only stuff that I found out as the cause goes. The reason I didn’t tell anyone at the time is because of the stigma. I thought I was going mad. But it is changing, the more people there are to lend their voice to it, it’ll make a difference."
What do you think people should be doing to raise more awareness around mental health?
"We need to lead by example because it’s really easy to tell people to talk about this stuff but we don’t tell them how, where, who to and we don’t tell them about how hard it is to talk and just leave them to it. So I think if you want more people to talk more about their mental health, we need to lead by example and talk about our own mental health. I think if we are showing up for ourselves, we can really show up for other people. That goes a long way for spreading that awareness conversation.
I think when we spread awareness about mental health, it’s really important to be using the right words about it as well. I think it adds to the stigma using “mental health” and “mental illness” in our day to day terminology. For example, if you’re the sort of person that likes your desk at work to be neat and tidy, you’re not a little bit OCD, you just simply like a tidy desk. And if your football team loses a game, you’re not depressed, you’re just upset. If you’re nervous before your driving test, you are anxious but you don’t have anxiety. So rather than using mental health as a blanket term that covers everything from low mood to needing medical intervention, I think we need to be a little more specific in what we say and how we say it.
Additionally, sometimes when we think of spreading awareness, we tend to focus massively on the bigger picture and forget to think about the smaller picture. For example, you can go straight to social media, use hashtags and raise awareness but you might not be thinking about the immediate people around you like your brother upstairs or your mate who’s been a bit quiet. So trying to spread that awareness on a smaller scale in your local community, you can have a massive impact by just looking around you and I think that’s quite empowering."
Do you think there is any correlation between giving back and mental health?
"If you look at a lot of mental health conditions like depression, they make you very selfish. Depression is a really selfish thing to go through everything becomes about you. You don’t think about how your actions and words affect those around you and even if you do think of it, you blame yourself for it so it becomes all about you anyway. And when you do something for other people, it can break that bubble – breaking that cycle of constantly thinking about yourself. And when are having negative thoughts and feelings, sometimes you need to prove the voice in your head wrong. And if you’re saying things like you’re worthless, that you’re a bad person, you don’t deserve things, and all this negativity, you can prove that voice wrong by doing something for other people and by giving back. Because you can’t be worthless if you’re doing something good, you just can’t. And doing stuff for other people makes you feel good, we don’t always want to admit that but it’s does! Doing something good makes you feel good and it’s important to enjoy that. And when your mental health is low, then those little moments of enjoyment can make all the difference. Doing one thing and seeing the difference that can make someone, can help you get through your day. That’s really important.
The one thing a lot people I’ve spoken to that have had these struggles all share from their experiences is that it kind of ramps up their compassion for other people. So many mental health communities, charities and organisations have been started by people who went through something and said, ‘how can I prevent this happening to anyone else?” One of my guests once described it as “it’s like coming out of the burning fire and running back to help put out the flame” which I thought was a lovely way of putting it. When you’ve experienced mental health, it makes you very caring and compassionate which makes you want to do more for your community and those around you – so in a way it becomes a cycle of helping yourself, helping others and feeling better."
Any tips on how people can take better care of their mental health & wellbeing?
"If you’re not doing too good, focus on yourself. Find a level of self-acceptance or even call it self love. If you can learn to love yourself then you find a different way of navigating life. So you make better choices, because if you know that you are worthy of more, you will ask for more from life. From the relationships you choose and the people you surround yourself with. If you don’t think you’re any good, then you’re going to pick people negative relationships. You’re going to pick people who don’t treat you good. But if you can learn to love yourself and accept yourself, you’ll make better choices in those areas and that’s just a nicer way to live!
There are loads of external self-care things that you can do to feel better but if you don’t love yourself, how will you help yourself? How would you practice self-care if you don’t care about yourself? If someone tells you to go exercise, if you don’t love your body and care about your body, then you’re not going to go and exercise. I think in the mental health world, there’s so much out there that’s external, which is all really useful but if you’re at a very low place, it’s hard to get yourself to the gym, some people can’t get out of bed. So what do we do then? How do we start to look inwards rather than outwards? So I think if we really start to care about ourselves then we can make decisions based on that, which then leads to a different way of life and end up in different situations with people that help make you feel better.
So a big one from me is to have compassion for yourself, be kind to yourself, and learn to love yourself!"
Find out more about what Tom does and check out his podcast here: