Dan Howell has a message for the struggling.
Don't suffer in silence. Reach out. Connect.
"It can be hard to ask for help, but you just need to think how you'd feel if a friend did the same," says Howell. "It wouldn't be a burden, you'd feel better that you can help them and it might bring you closer."
The YouTuber has written a book that aims to demystify mental health, a straight-talking missive that offers practical solutions and even a few jokes. He describes You Will Get Through This Night as a "lean, mean, mental health machine" – check out our interview below.
Tell us about your new book – You Will Get Through This Night…
This is the book that I wish I could have read when I needed it. Too many of us go through life not really thinking about our mental health, how we think and how it makes us feel, and if we just learn a few tips (that we should all be taught) it can literally change our lives! Why waste any more time? The book is a lean, mean, mental health machine - there's no fluff or waffle, it gets straight to the point and tells you the practical things you can try in your life right now that will make a difference.
I'm here as the guy that makes it relatable, so you don't feel bad if you see yourself in these struggles, and funny. Because sometimes after a long day the last thing I want to do is 'homework' or read something boring, so if I can make a few inappropriate jokes about my mess of a life to make it enjoyable, I'm happy to.
Are there any books you used as inspiration when writing yours?
I actually really tried to avoid getting influenced by other books out there! A lot of mental health books are either: celeb memoirs that are amazing for relating to and shattering the stigma, but not great advice for you, or serious psychological self help that goes really deep on specific topics and the theory, but are a struggle to get through to the important revelations.
If you only ever buy one book to understand your mind and sort your life out – I want this to be the one. It's like the highlights of the entire library, crammed into 300 pages – designed for you not to just read once, but come back to and refer to as a toolkit for whenever you need it.
We're all great at lying to ourselves about what bothers us and how we really feel
Was there a specific incident in your life that spurred you to write it?
Definitely. When I opened up about my struggles with depression, it was incredibly hard – and terrifying. I seriously thought I'd damage my career, people would judge me and think I'm 'crazy' and I'd have to wade through misunderstanding. It was the opposite. People empathised, understood and related.
Some people saw themselves in my story and realised for the first time that their life wasn't supposed to be that way, others finally understood a silent struggle that someone in their life was going through too. It showed me not just the importance of sharing your story to break the stigma that still exists around mental health, but how much incredibly important stuff there is for all of us to know about our minds!
My experience in life has given me a following of passionate people that show me every day the power we all have by telling our stories, the responsibility that comes with a platform, and the good you can do with it. I knew I had to write the book that could have saved me years of struggling – so hopefully someone out there doesn't go through the same.
Great trailer for the book! And really astute point: everyone in the world is alone with their thoughts before they fall asleep. How do you manage your thoughts in that time?
Thank you! I really wanted to show firstly, that mental health is universal. A lot of us only think 'mental health' applies to people with serious anxiety or depression, when it's actually how all of us think and feel all the time – if you are too stressed, have difficulty dealing with anger, or worry too much up in your head and it's holding you back in any way from enjoying life, that's your mental health! You can do something about it.
I'm someone that has real trouble getting to sleep if I'm worrying about stuff and the book deals with this in so many ways: from learning mindfulness to get perspective on your thoughts, to being present and using your senses and body to change how your brain operates, to the practical side of sorting out your problems so they don't go bump in the night.
Deep question – but why do you think night often brings out our darker thoughts and emotions? (No pun intended.)
'The Night' is such an important metaphor, not just for the dark times, but that literally we spend all our days pushing our fears to the back of our minds (to be distracted by the activities of the day), but when night comes and it's just you and your thoughts – they suddenly appear and you have to confront the truth.
We're all great at lying to ourselves about what bothers us and how we really feel, whether that's a day to day problem on your mind or a huge skeleton in the closet (for me literally my own skeleton) that is having a huge effect on your life.
The good news is – you can 'be your own light'. Mental health isn't a mystery or something set in stone, it's something you can influence and shape to make yourself healthier and happier.
As a YouTuber, how would you describe the relationship between your mental health and social media? Presumably it must be complicated…
I am definitely trapped in a digital nightmare that I created, haha! Social media has its good sides, from finding communities and support, to having fun and even learning about things that you might not get from a classroom or in your real world environment.
The downside is that the internet brings out the worst in people, from trolls hiding behind screens, to social media beaming us with addictive algorithms that force us to compare ourselves to the highlight reels of our friends' lives and the world's most perfect and successful celebrities.
Even just the information overload of our social lives and the 24 hour news cycle is too much for our primitive brains to handle, no wonder it's so bloody stressful!
How would you recommend people use social media for the benefit of their mental health? And negate its potentially harmful effects?
I do a whole deep dive on social media and how to manage it. From 'muting' that annoying friend, to curating the content on your timeline to take it from stressful and upsetting, to inspirational and mood boosting! It's important to get perspective on why people act differently on the internet and how to interpret the sometimes extreme actions we see (that someone would never do in real life).
We have this incredible power in our hands, connecting us to the whole world all the time, we just need to know how to make it work for us.
Is there a piece of advice or mantra that you’ve found helpful? Either someone else’s or one of your own?
I'll spoil it now: the number one tip for managing your mental health and general emotional wellbeing is support from others. I say this as the biggest introvert in the world that needs a two week holiday alone in a cave after going to a party for five minutes – but sharing what you're thinking and feeling with another person can be a lifesaver.
Even if they don't have magical advice, just feeling seen, heard, acknowledged and getting what's going on up in your head out into the world and onto the table can give you perspective and feel less alone. It can be hard to ask for help, but you just need to think how you'd feel if a friend did the same – it wouldn't be a burden, you'd feel better that you can help them and it might bring you closer!
Don't suffer in silence. You've got this. You will get through this night.
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You Will Get Through This Night is released 18 May. Order your copy here