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You are not alone: Ruby Tandoh on how to support a friend with a mental health problem


Every year, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem, while every week, one in six people in England report experiencing a common mental health disorder, such as anxiety and depression. 

But how can you broach this subject with your friends, or support them if they are struggling? Here, Ruby Tandoh offers her advice to Stylist.co.uk readers ahead of the launch of her new mental health zine, Do What You Want.

It’s true that offering advice to friends living with mental health problems can feel like a uniquely difficult subject to approach.

But with one in every four people in the UK experiencing some kind of mental health problem every year, it’s likely that at least one of your friends will need help at some point in their lives – that is, if they haven’t already.

And while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the numerous disorders that sit across the spectrum of our minds, from anxiety (which affects around 6% of us) to OCD (1.3% of us), help is at hand.

Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Ruby Tandoh, who has today launched a zine about mental wellbeing, shares her advice for broaching the topic with your friends.

“The most important thing of all is that you are there with an open mind.”

“The most important thing of all is that you are there with an open mind, ready to listen, and to offer whatever kind of support your friend needs,” the author and food writer says.

“It can be really upsetting to hear someone close to you saying how much they are hurting, but it’s so important to listen when they say this, and to allow them that hurt, rather than rushing them towards some kind of ‘cure’”.

Ruby’s emphasis on giving a friend the time and space to fully process their emotions is important: all too often, we can become masters of avoiding our own feelings, or take cover in hiding behind a social-media-enabled shield.

“People need to feel like their sadness and their pain is being taken seriously,” she adds.

“This is a massive first step. If they’re talking to you, that means they want to get better, and that is a real positive.”

Ruby's new zine. released today

Ruby's new zine. released today

“There’s so much stigma attached to mental illness.”

Ruby’s advice comes from a place of experience: the 25-year-old has written extensively about her own mental health problems, from being admitted to a mental health ward following an attempted suicide when she was 18 to seeking help for an eating disorder four years later.

Now she hopes the launch of her zine, Do What You Want, will help prise open the conversation surrounding mental health even further, while beginning to shake off the stigma that has been associated with it for so long.

“Both Leah [Ruby’s partner] and I have had experience of mental health problems and I think what really held us back from receiving treatment, or even realising we had a problem, was the mischaracterisation of mental illness and of people who suffer from mental health problems,” she tells Stylist.co.uk.

“There’s so much stigma attached to mental illness and that makes it really difficult to confront problems when they arise.”

Read more: Meet the kickass women perfectly depicting anxiety

Ruby and Leah have spent the last five months carefully crafting the zine, which launches today and includes a kaleidoscopic look at all aspects of mental health, from social anxiety to compulsive spending, and seeking therapy to managing OCD.

And while the zine, and its articles, are beautifully presented, the overall subject matter doesn’t shy away from the “grittier elements” of mental health, a point Ruby is keen to emphasise.

“In recent months there’s been loads of coverage in the media about mental illness and even spokespeople such as Prince Harry coming forward to raise awareness,” she says.

“This is all great, but I’m wary when it comes at the expense of those who suffer less palatable, less socially acceptable types of mental illness.”

It would be fair to say the reaction to the zine’s launch speaks volumes about our appetite for more relatable information on mental wellbeing – the zine sold out before it was even printed, leading Ruby and Leah to launch a second run, which also sold out almost immediately. However, you can buy the ebook for £1.99 via their website.

Ruby and Leah

Ruby and Leah

Featuring articles from well-known names include Heather Havrilesky, who writes the Ask Polly advice column for New York Magazine, alongside Mara Wilson, and comfort food recipes from Diana Henry and Ruby herself, the zine offers a chatty and relatable format for helping us to understand our own minds.

“In creating this zine we wanted, of course, to show that mental illness isn’t a death sentence. But we also wanted to make sure that the voices of those with mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder didn’t go unheard.”

Of course, the stigma surrounding mental health isn’t the only barrier that can stop people from receiving the treatment they need.

The challenge of seeking treatment

It’s no secret that the mental health services offered by the NHS have been brutally cut: the latest figures, released by Community Care and BBC News in 2015, found that funding for NHS trusts to provide mental health services had fallen by 8.25%, equating to around £600 million, between 2010 and 2015.

“There are so many institutional factors, such as lack of access to services, underfunding within the NHS, and a misunderstanding of metal health even among doctors,” Ruby says.

Read more: How one woman is beating depression by developing a passion for running

The profits from the zine will therefore go towards charities and not-for-profit organisations that “do vital work, not just in changing perceptions, but also in helping to provide concrete support for those in need”.

“It can be especially difficult [to get help] considering that GPs aren’t given a great deal of training specifically in matters of mental health, and it can be a lucky dip as to whether you get a sensitive one,” Ruby adds.

“The charity Beat (one of the recipients of the money raised from sales of Do What You Want) has some great resources on their website, though, for those preparing to see a GP about their disordered eating. This is just one example of the kind of help you can find when you consult charities and not-for-profit organisations. There’s so much out there.”

A spread from the zine, featuring Mara Wilson

A spread from the zine, featuring Mara Wilson

And finally…

Ruby also offered up her own advice for those struggling with mental health problems, discussing how a quote she read in an Ask Polly column was instrumental in helping to shift her outlook.

“It’s something along the lines of ‘you won’t find your will to live in bed’, and it’s stuck with me ever since,” she says.

“What this means for me is that even when I’m feeling really low, I always try to force myself out of bed and into the shower first thing in the morning. You can lie in bed all day waiting for some kind of divine spark of inspiration to show you there’s something worth living for but truly, in my experience, it does not come.”

And should you want it, further comfort can be found in the final few words of her introduction to the zine, which begins with her asking “what’s the point?” and ends in a definitive – and wonderful – answer.

“The point is survival,” she writes. “The point is the joy of a sizzling cheese toastie, or a hard fought-for recovery, or the love of a close friend.

“The point is the collage of a million tiny glimmering moments of happiness in our difficult lives. Don’t let it out of your sight.”

Images: iStock / courtesy of Ruby Tandoh

If you want more information about living with a mental health problem, you can find useful resources at mind.org.uk or on the NHS mental health site at nhs.co.uk/livewell/mentalhealth


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