How are you?

This week, the ‘How are you? Honestly.’ Campaign launched, aiming at removing all Britishness from our conversations and getting honest answers to the question ‘How are you?’.

Today, sparked by the poignant article about a teacher who asked her class to write down things they wished she knew, the hashtag #IWishMyFriendsKnew appeared on twitter. This tag is full of people, both with and without mental health problems, writing a sentence that they wish their friends knew. They range from ‘I’m awesome’ to people disclosing suicide and other intensely difficult life experiences.

Both campaigns lead me to question why we feel so much more comfortable sharing these confessions on the internet (to millions of people) then we do to our friends. Why is it so difficult to tell those closest to us what is really going on in our lives and in our heads?

Everybody experiences difficulties in their life whether it’s trying to sort a work-life balance, dealing with illness (mental or physical), stressing out over exams, or something else. Yet some of these difficulties feel more ‘acceptable’ than others.

In my experience, it’s much more ‘acceptable’ to tell a friend you have diabetes (which 6% of UK residents had in 2013¹), than it is to tell them you have depression (which 19% of UK residents had in 2013²). So why, when depression is 3x more common than diabetes, is the stigma associated with it so much greater?

I don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know why it is so hard to tell people when we’re not feeling so great. I do know that even though I champion open communication, campaign constantly on mental health and spend hours talking to my friends; I still fail to answer the question ‘How are you’ with total honesty. I know that if I’ve had a crappy day and don’t want to see anyone or do anything, I’ll tell my friends I’m ‘busy’ rather than telling them I’m not up to going out that night. I know that if I’m unhappy with a mark I got on an essay, I’ll tell them I’m ‘fine’ whilst secretly beating myself up about it. And I bet I’m not the only one.

There are no easy answers to this and it’s not going to be ‘fixed’ any time soon. As a society, we are taught that we need to be ‘happy’, that we need to be ‘fine’. That the correct answer to ‘How are you’, is either ‘fine thanks, you?’, ‘I’m okay ta, you’, or another variation of those two answers. We have dialogues we have learned over our lives which we repeat daily. It’s almost as if we have learned a script and every day we act out this play. We have created carefully constructed characters; we have decided how we want to world to view us, and every day we have to live up to that role.

It shouldn’t have to be this way and it’s down to all of us to change it. You, me, the guy next door and the girl down the street. We need to stop listening to our friends when they tell us they’re ‘fine’ (and they’re obviously not) and to call them out on it. We need to ask them how they really are, and slowly, very slowly, our culture will begin to change.

¹http://www.diabetes.org.uk/About_us/What-we-say/Statistics/Diabetes-prevalence-2013/
²http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_310300.pdf

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