YOU have no idea what’s going on for someone behind closed doors. No idea.”

This is the overwhelming truth I’ve learnt in my 15-year career as a doctor. In pre-pandemic times, I would open the door to a bustling waiting room with people from all walks of life sitting as equals, all vulnerable and there to seek help.

I’d rarely be able to predict what their challenges were based on their external appearances. These days it’s even harder to tell as we have moved to a largely digital model where you get a name and a voice.

I speak to hundreds of people every week from the very affluent to those living in deprivation. I see people from high achieving professional jobs, CEOs of huge firms to those struggling to make ends meet and surviving on benefits. The inequalities are stark and sadly inform the types of health problems we see across the demographics. One health problem however that doesn’t discriminate in this manner is mental health issues.

No matter what your background, culture or status is, when it comes to mental suffering, we have more in common than we think and just because someone externally appears to be doing well doesn’t mean they’re doing well on the inside.

Whether it’s the shiny, carefully curated posts we see on social media or whether it’s the altered media depictions that are rarely kind and often far from reality, people believe them to be the truth. They form a judgement and it becomes the narrative forgetting that there’s a human behind the scenes. Unless it comes from them, a picture or hearsay tells you nothing.

Mental health is often invisible but with one in four people affected by mental illness in Scotland and suicide rates increasing, we need to all recognise that this isn’t just a problem for the healthcare workers to fix but it’s something that everyone – yes even you – has a role to play in managing.

This week we heard a well-known woman admit, so bravely, that she struggled with her mental health. She had suicidal thoughts and was in a dark place and reached for help but was silenced. Anyone who has ever suffered mental health challenges will know that this takes incredible strength and courage. The worst thing then, that anyone can ever do, is ignore someone’s call for help.

Mental health problems have the ability to tear families and livelihoods apart. The earlier it is recognised, the better the outcome not just for the sufferer but for their loved ones too.

Lived experience is an individual’s truth and nobody should ever challenge its validity. I’ve seen this with people suffering from trauma; it’s real, not fabricated. Only they know how it feels. Our role as carers is to listen, help and support with the intention to heal.

During this pandemic we have seen mental health impact the masses and the numbers are continuing to rise. I’m seeing this amongst young children all the way up to the elderly and I truly believe we’ve not yet seen the true extent of the problem. Awareness of this is key; we need to act now.

How can you make the difference? First of all, check-in with loved ones. Do not assume you know what’s going on; instead ask with the intention to listen. Be kind and show compassion and give respect to people’s mental health issues as you would for their physical ones.

When someone says, “help,” roll up your sleeves and do what you can to help them out of that dark space. Encourage them to speak to their GP and be there in whichever capacity you can, just never silence or disregard them.

We’ve lost too many to mental health issues. Too many have suffered alone and my heart just breaks every time I hear of another who could’ve been saved had they believed that it was ok to reach out.

So when you see someone and you form a judgement, just pause and remind yourself that you have no idea what’s going on for that someone behind their closed doors. Step back and be kind always.