One of the most frustrating things we encounter when discussing mental ill-health is the accusations of attention seeking. We’re sure you’ve heard it too: “Oh, they’re just hurting themselves to get attention”, or “Why do you need to talk about your depression so much – are you just looking for attention?” The worst thing about these comments is that they can worm their way into our brains, and, then, when we need to ask for help, we worry that we’re attention seeking, that we’re going to be a burden.
Talking Means That We Can Get Help
We often hear conflicting messages. On the one-hand, we are encouraged to talk about our problems, but, on the other, if we talk about them too much, or too openly, we’re labelled as an attention-seeker. It’s hard to know what to do for the best, and it can feel easier to keep it all inside. Something that can really help is re-framing. When we reach out for help, we are not attention seeking; we are care seeking, support seeking, or connection seeking. Every single one of us needs care, support, and connection at times, and it makes complete sense for us to ask for these things. It is not attention seeking.
Talking Reduces Stigma
The belief that, talking about mental ill-health = attention-seeking, comes from the stigma which still surrounds mental illness. If we’d broken our arm, would we ignore it, try to use our arm despite the pain, worrying that it broke because we were weak? Would we be scared to seek treatment for it, or ask for help carrying things, because people might think that we’re attention seeking? Discussing mental health – whether we have experience of mental illness or not – reduces stigma. With less stigma, people experiencing mental ill-health will feel more able to ask for help.
Talking Raises Awareness
Even if we, ourselves, haven’t experienced mental illness, it is incredibly likely that someone we know will have, or will be struggling right now. Mental ill-health is not something that happens to other people – it happens our family, our friends, our neighbours, and our colleagues. The more we talk about mental-illness, the more we realise how common it really is. In turn, more research and funding is dedicated to it, more resources are created, and more people can be helped.
Talking Saves Lives
Feeling unable to ask for help, or talk about our mental-health, due to the fear of being labelled as attention seeking, can be life-threatening. Often, a person considering suicide will try to let someone else know what they’re thinking, before making an attempt. It can be easy to dismiss statements like “nobody cares about me”, or “I might as well not be here” as attention seeking. In fact, paying attention to things like this, and asking about mental health, and suicidal feelings, provides space and opportunity to open up. Talking about mental illness, and suicide, in an open and non-judgemental way, can save lives.
Why is attention seeking such a bad thing anyway? It’s incredibly brave to talk about mental illness honestly and openly. It’s amazing to feel able to expose your vulnerabilities, and it should be applauded, not derided. Sometimes, we don’t always ask for attention in the way that another person might. This doesn’t make us any less deserving of help, and it doesn’t mean that we should be dismissed as just attention seeking. We need that attention and support, and, if we get it, we may feel more able to talk about our feelings next time and ask for help sooner.
Whether you re-frame it as care seeking, or accept that we all need attention from time-to-time, please do try and reach out for help.
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