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Why don’t we talk about mental health in Cyprus?

It often comes to my mind, that, when I was in high school, I’d regularly get upset about the fact I couldn’t accurately, and in the way I truly wished, articulate my thoughts and opinions when writing essays. There was always a barrier. There was always something missing.

Years later, when I started putting my thoughts on paper (and later on a blog) it somehow became easier, as if I was released from whatever kept my expressive side blocked and silenced. And I feel that’s how talking about mental health evolved over the years not just for me, but for the rest of the world too.

Although I studied psychology for my first degree, even then, about 18 years ago (I’m almost 36, to save you from the trouble of calculating my age), there was a stigma about it. Not many (if any) would openly admit they suffered from depression, or anxiety, or autism, or bipolar disorder, or panic attacks, as it was considered a weakness or pure ‘insanity’. You would only see a psychologist if you were ‘crazy’.

After living in the UK for 10 years, having volunteered for a mental charity, having written about depression and anxiety myself, seeing, listening and reading about people openly sharing their feelings and troubles, witnessing mental health organisations growing in numbers and popularity (NGOs such as the Samaritans or Mind or social enterprises like the brilliant Touch I used to volunteer for) I was under the impression things would have progressed in Cyprus too, not to the degree they did in the UK, but certainly to some extent.

Surely by now people would have realised that is as important (if not more) to look after their mental health the way they look after their physical health. If you break your leg, you’d go to the doctor, if you are paralysed from anxiety, you’d go to a psychologist, right? Not to mention the effects of the digital era, as well as the global pandemic on mental health, and the fact that we are all busy, all the time. One day we’ll reach to a point we’ll have no time to breathe (just writing about it stresses me out) .

A few days ago, whilst enjoying a coffee on my own at a local cafe, I was brainstorming ideas on what organisation I can volunteer for, and I was unpleasantly surprised to discover after looking up mental health NGOs to volunteer that there aren’t really any on the island!

Why is that? Is it because there’s still stigma around mental health here? Are people here still in denial about the importance of looking after your mental wellbeing? Are they scared to admit when they are struggling? Do they still perceive sharing your feelings as a weakness (it’s one of the hardest things to do actually and it shows strength and character, a brilliant example of the power of vulnerability as Bene Brown eloquently talked about it a few years ago https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o) ? Is it because there isn’t enough interest by locals or psychologists?

I have been talking about it with a few friends and colleagues lately and I’m still baffled why that is and I wish I had the means to set up a mental health NGO myself, just to make a start.

For now I can’t, but what I can do is continue to talk about mental health with friends, family and strangers, because every time I do, someone would relate to and share their own experiences (which I love to hear about, everyday human stories are so powerful in so many ways) and that’s a clear sign that any outlets to talk about mental health struggles with others in a safe, non-judgmental environment, where you can also receive relevant advice and/or training on how to identify signs or symptoms of a person suffering would be of great benefit.

Who knows, maybe we can soon start a movement and change things up on the island, at least when it comes to mental health!

Namaste

Eleni

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