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The power of normal stories

Joey is inspired by Matt Haig and Katharine Welby-Roberts at Greenbelt to have open and honest conversations about mental health.

A few months ago, my boss was slightly apprehensive when he saw a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive on my desk. I assured him it was the best book I’d read all year. In it, author Matt Haig takes the reader through his personal journey, starting with his very sudden break-down as a twenty-something living in Ibiza. Through the delicate writing and vivid imagery, one story of depression is opened up for anyone to read.

Another story is told by Katharine Welby-Roberts. Her breakdown wasn’t summed up in a dramatic moment, but a slow realisation of perpetual unhappiness. Her continued suffering from anxiety and chronic fatigue doesn’t offer a perfect happy ending. As she told Greenbelters yesterday, ‘If we only hear testimonies wrapped up in victory with a bow, we are demanding the narrative is resolved’.

I was excited to hear both speak at Greenbelt, simply because I viewed them as celebrities. Matt is an exceptionally talented best-seller author. Katherine happens to be the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter and recently appeared on my favourite TV show, Songs of Praise.

But as they spoke I was excited by their normality. They are not celebrities. They are storytellers, and we need more of them.

‘There will always be stigma’, said Matt. ‘But what we can do is talk, it breeds understanding’. It’s not a position reserved for authors or clergy daughters. Earlier this month, a friend of mine blogged about his current mental health struggles. The guy that I thought was living the dream bravely wrote ‘I haven’t got it all’. His vulnerability allowed me to understand more about him, and more about myself.

Please join us in this big conversation by starting your own. Official statistics say one in four people suffer from mental health problems. Reality says it’s probably more than that. If we ourselves are not that ‘one in four’, we know someone who is. Sharing your story will help friends that you don’t even know are struggling to process what they’re going through. Whether you feel comfortable to blog about it, or privately talking over a coffee, both are valued and needed contributions.

And if you can’t start a conversation yourself, listen and reply. We can worry too much about saying the wrong words around mental health. Matt’s dad once told him to ‘pull yourself together’. Yet he wasn’t upset or offended, because he knew the tenderness and sincerity his Dad said it with. ‘When you start from a place of love and care, you can’t go too far wrong’.

Act now. Text a friend to say you are thinking of them in whatever words you can.