I am writing this on World Mental Health Day 2014, “Living with Schizophrenia”. It’s almost 3am and I’ve seen less than 5 people post or share something about this cause on Facebook, which hasn’t really surprised me. Isn’t it weird how there’s still so much stigma attached to mental illness in this open-minded day and age? In the UK, the same-sex marriage legislation was passed over a year ago and we are an ever-growing multicultural part of the world inhabited by various ethnicities. So why are people walking on eggshells when it comes to talking about well-being?
I think the thing that scares us about discussing mental health is our lack of knowledge and understanding. As we’ve proven with our intellectual enlightenment that surpasses many obstinate parts of the world, it’s not that we don’t accept mental illness – we just haven’t got the hang of it yet. With enough discussion this issue should become obsolete, and that is what I hope to contribute towards with this blog post.
A mental health issue can be anything that is affecting how we think, feel and behave. For thousands of years things like melancholia and hysteria were treated with potions and lotions just like a physical health problem. It was not until the 18th Century that a differentiation was made between a ‘disease of the mind’ and a ‘disease of the body’, and that these things needed to be looked at and treated in different ways.
We’ve all seen the commonly used statistic that 1 in 4 people will suffer with some form of mental health issue in their lifetime.
That’s one of these:
and one of these:
and one of these:
When you put it that way, 25% is a really scary figure. And when you see the long list of disorders that fall in to the ‘Mental Illness’ category, you can kind of begin personalise the issue. We’ve all heard of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, paranoia, phobias and low self-esteem and have either suffered with one or more ourselves or have someone close to us who has.
Then there are all those big, intimidating wordsy-words like Body Dysmorphic disorder and Hypomania and Schizophrenia and we start to go “nope, not my area”. If you take a minute to stop and look up these mouthfuls you’ll find they actually represent things that we experience day-to-day just like depression and low self-esteem. All they mean are worrying about your appearance, fluctuating in mood from energetic to irritable and being delusional – except to a level that make living out a normal day extremely difficult or dangerous. These disorders are a lot more complex than these simple definitions I’ve given them of course, but breaking them down and making them relatable should make it a bit easier to get your head around.
So now we have a better idea of what constitutes Mental Health, what’s the big deal? As it’s something very close to my heart, I will use depression as an example.
Unfortunately, a lot of people hear a word like “depression” and give it as much thought as a house with a door. “It doesn’t mean anything”. “Everyone gets depressed”. “You’re just being a drama queen!” The thing is, the vast majority of us DO feel depressed. It’s horrible to admit, but with the media and social norms of the Western world it’s kind of difficult not to grow up without feeling inadequate or useless or meaningless at least once. Depression being a common feeling or disorder does not make it any less difficult or important – especially for the people that can’t cope with it.
People throwing around the word “depressed” for when ASOS doesn’t have that dress in a size 8 is understandably part of the reason why the term isn’t taken seriously. Depression is always a big deal, don’t get me wrong. But the thing that separates I-don’t-have-a-dress-to-wear-to-that-party-now depression from medically diagnosed and treated depression is the impact it has on the person living their life. Or in terms of depression, NOT living their life in a way that is deemed healthy and ‘normal’.
I previously mentioned mental and physical problems being looked at in different ways. This ground-breaking revelation that began the extensive knowledge and understanding Psychologists and Physicians have today of mental illness (and why to treat it with SSRIs and therapy rather than aspirin for example) has now also become one of the reasons we don’t want to talk about mental health.
The distinction between mental and physical health has the positives that we’ve discussed… and a huge negative too. In my opinion, mental health is just as important as physical health problems such as Cancer and AIDS. This may seem controversial and difficult to understand, but mental and physical health problems have levels of severity and in extreme cases can both result in death. Surely this makes them equally vital?
I don’t want to go in to too much detail about my personal feelings on the matter, but I hope that statement will give you something to think about. Lack of knowledge, understanding and regard for mental health issues creates a stigma on the subject that makes it even more difficult for people suffering them to come forward. We would never expect someone to be ashamed of admitting they are undergoing chemotherapy. People should not be ashamed of admitting to attending counselling sessions or whatever specific treatment they need to get better.
Because that’s the thing: all we should be concerned with is people getting better. Whether the problem is affecting the body or the mind it is equally unplanned and unwanted and can be equally difficult to overcome. All health issues need treatment in order to create positive change, and if we openly make it clear that we understand that, we could make the world a lot less terrifying for the people that are in any sort of pain.
Click here to read more about bridging the gap between the importance of physical and mental health.
11 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Mental Health”
I don’t see anything controversial about this article at all, the fact that some may see it that way disheartens me! Mental health will always have a stigma attached to it as people are always afraid of what they don’t understand, this is why people don’t talk about it also. Because no one wants to talk about it the stigma stays.
I also wholeheartedly agree with your point about the word depression being thrown around. This is the thing that annoys me a lot more than it should! Depression is a deep dark whole where despair, loneliness and hopelessness take hold and you feel like nothing will ever change. This definition of depression is not how you would describe not finding your dress size!
Keep talking about mental health! The more we talk about it the better people’s understanding will become.
I agree with your points about controversy but I disagree about how mental healthy will ALWAYS have a stigma. Perhaps it’s my idealistic nature talking but, as you say, people fear that which they do not understand, which I agree. However, that then means education on the subject should be a focus. It starts with people becoming more comfortable talking about the subject, until we can integrate it with school and college education.
While I don’t think this will happen for another 30-40 years as it needs it’s own natural flow, I think it is only a matter of time. People want to talk about this now, and with so many peoples loved ones being affected in this generation people also want to understand it.
I would have to agree with you on that Sam, I do not believe that there will always be stigma around mental health. If we look at how much this is being talked about in popular culture, the media and government policy today (compared to only a couple of years ago when I first published this post) we can see that we as a society are definitely taking a step in the right direction. Of course we are no where near where we need to be but mental health is becoming a part of general, and more importantly POSITIVE discourse. However, I can see why Carrie feels the way she does as it often feels like you are alone and that no one truly understands your situation when you are in periods of low mood and depression. I definitely think it is important to implement mental health awareness in to education as much as possible and as you have both said, keep the discussion going. Thank you both so much for reading & commenting.
Yeah just like Carrie I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion to have at all! Mental issues are generally seen as a sign of weakness in someone rather than an illness, particularly with things like depression.
Those trying to help often think it’s just a matter of telling them to “snap out of it” or “pull themselves together” without ever trying to get to the root of the problem.
You are absolutely spot on there Jake. Thank you for the input!
I also agree with the whole issue regarding depression. There seems to be a vicious circle going on – we don’t understand a phenomenon such as mental illnesses, so we make it a taboo subject and avoid it. To help us talk about it and understand it, we simplify it to make it relatable, which then leads some people to take it too literally and assume people just exaggerate everyday issues, making it even worse for those suffering from such illnesses. As you said, I completely agree that we should just be concerned with people getting better rather than judging them on what type of illness has happened to affect them.
Thank you for this insightful comment Sandy; I definitely think that talking openly about mental health is the most efficient and effective way to break down the barriers and stigma.
Speaking as someone that himself has experience of depression, I’d agree. A life-changing on-going debilitating disease that medicine has trouble treating and if ignored can easily prove terminal. If anything I’d say it can be worse than cancer, because cancer can’t trick you into believing it isn’t there. My words to anyone that feels like everyone and everything is wrong with their life; Like no-one cares or like you’re too much trouble; Like just waking up is hard work and eating or moving is a chore….please talk to someone. Anyone. Your friend, your mum, your cat even… just anyone who will listen and if nothing else they will show you that you are loved. That you are important to them. You’re never alone and you will never be too much bother for someone, but the hardest step is to reach out for help. Please trust me, it’s worth it and it will get better in time, but until then it’s always nice to have someone you can rely on 🙂
This is a really interesting perspective Thom, thank you for reading and commenting as always. I am sure people have taken a lot from what you have to say.
Those statistics are incredibly scary. It really puts the overwhelming amount of people suffering with mental health issues into perspective. I agree with Sam about integrating it into our education systems to teach people about it from a young-ish age (normalisation? I think that’s the right term). Of course, for that to happen it’d have to be implemented into our curriculums, which, like Sam has already said, probably won’t happen for some time. But while that’s very unfortunate, these huge campaigns for increased understanding and awareness will definitely make it reality quicker.
Thank you for the feedback Adam. I believe these statistics are even worse than 1 in 4 only a couple of years later. Mental health awareness has a place in education today from what I have seen and so I don’t think we have to be cynical about its implementation. However, we still have a long way to go and as you say, keeping the conversation going around mental health will not only educate people but also help remove the stigma that still surrounds it today.