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.