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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

“How are you feeling?” asks Northern Irish community pharmacists

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Today’s post has a more relaxed feel because after writing yesterday’s really involved post about such a difficult subject, I feel as though I need to take a step back and prioritise my own mental health.

I need to remember that writing about difficult and contentious issues can be draining, and I think that sometimes it’s probably a good idea to focus on other things so that the mind can have a rest.

Taking this into account, I am actually going to give myself a few days off from writing and take a bit of a breather because I’ve now written well over one hundred posts since I started this new blog in January, and there is already a huge amount of advice and information here for people to benefit from.

What I really need is to be able to reach and help more people – I will have to think about how to do this over the next few days!

“How are you?”

I was thinking when out walking yesterday that I would write something about the nightmare question that continually faces the sufferer when going through a depressive episode.

Apart from the torment of feeling too hideous to even face leaving the house, I used to avoid social situations wherever possible because I couldn’t face being asked that million-dollar question of ‘how are you?’

It’s such a natural part of conversation, and people often say it by way of habit rather than really meaning to inquire about the state of one’s mental health.

I can’t really explain this but it’s virtually impossible to be open and honest about how you are feeling when you are suffering from depression because the illness itself stops you from doing that.

I can’t really tell you why this happens – depression just twists your mind so hideously that you don’t even have the ability to express your true feelings in words.

What generally happens is that you go to a dinner party (or whatever it is that you decide to do), and you immediately get asked ‘Hi, how are you?’ and you say ‘Fine thanks’ when really you mean:

“I have no interest in living at all and think of nothing but death and dying.”

How can you say that?! It’s a nightmare question for the depressive and you end up lying and pretending which is exhausting and makes you feel disingenuous and insincere.

“What do you do?”

This is another classic example of a simple question that is torture for the non-working sufferer to answer.

There were so many times over the last twenty years when I was faking being ok just so that my friends didn’t desert me, but when I forced myself to go to social engagements, I would often have to meet new people and have to face that awkward question of ‘what do you do?’

Most of the time I was ‘dying to stay alive’ in bed and I felt so guilty and so ashamed of myself for doing so that I’d either have to come up with another lie or I’d hesitantly open up a bit about my illness.

This often led to awkward moments with people who didn’t know what to say, or who said the wrong thing, and then I’d wish I’d never bothered trying to make the effort to go out at all.

Socialising is virtually impossible when you are suffering with severe depression so I would always advise that people only do it when they feel that they are ready to because forcing yourself to engage with life never makes you feel any better.

We must all learn to be the ‘experts of ourselves’ and trust our own instincts when it comes to choosing the right time to reconnect with society. Recovery from mental illness takes time unfortunately, and it’s never a good idea to rush yourself into getting better.

“How are you feeling?”

Just when I was pondering the ‘how are you’ conundrum yesterday, I read an article on the BBC News page about a pharmacy in Northern Ireland who are now making a concerted effort to ask their patients how they are feeling when they come to pick up their medications.

I think “how are you feeling?” is a better question to ask than – “how are you?” Because it allows the person to open up a bit about their mental health rather than just responding with the standard reply of ‘fine thanks.’

In the article patient Nicola Martin reports that being asked “how are you feeling?” was an important breakthrough, particularly in the recent lockdown. She says:

“I didn’t have to hide. I could say, ‘I’m alright today’ or ‘I don’t feel that good today’, and the reasons why. They would always give me time and I would walk out of the pharmacy feeling 100% better.”

Note to self

I’ve realised since reading this article that it is far better to ask ‘how are you feeling’ if you know that someone is suffering than asking how they are.

Somehow it is a more open inquiry that allows for a more considered answer, and it’s far more genuine and considerate than just asking the throw-away question of ‘how are you?’

Recently, the programme ‘Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency’ instructed us to ask people twice when you ask them how they are. I think they’ve got the right idea but I can’t imagine people repeating themselves in conversation like that!

“How are you feeling?” seems to me to be a better solution; it’s definitely something that’s worth thinking about anyway.

If you would like to read the article from the BBC mental health page, then you can find it here.

I will be taking a few days off from writing now so that I can have a few days to concentrate on other things but will be back early next week.

Please keep sharing these posts to others and please keep the suggestions and ideas for future posts coming!

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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