Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day

Today is 10 October, which means it’s World Mental Health Day 2014. Today, we raise awareness of what mental health means, how we handle it, and how we fight the insidious, silent illnesses that take so many lives around the world. I believe that talking about mental health is a step towards dispelling the uncertainty around it, so today I’m going to do that.

First and foremost, you are not alone. In the UK, around 25% of people will experience problems with their mental health over the course of a year.

We often assume that because an illness is invisible, it doesn’t exist. Or that it can be brushed off, or that a sufferer can “pull themselves together”. To find yourself suffering from such an illness is terrifying for a number of reasons: [a] because you might not know what’s happening to you, or why; [b] because of what the illness does to you, and [c] because we, as a society, do not consider mental health to be as urgent and important as our physical health.

Never assume that someone isn’t fighting a private battle with their mental health. No matter how happy they seem; how charmed their life appears. Even if they’re famous and all their dreams have come true and you think that they can want for nothing in the world. Even if they can smile and laugh and dance, even if they can project an enormous personality while they’re in public, never assume that their illness isn’t with them through every waking moment, eating away at their self-confidence, telling them that they don’t deserve this. That they’ll lose it. That none of the people in the room actually want them in it. Never assume that it doesn’t stop them sleeping. Or eating. Or concentrating on anything but fear. Mental health disorders, like any illness, know no rhyme or reason.

Not knowing much about mental health is okay. It doesn’t make you ignorant. Schools don’t always teach it; myths are seen as fact and perpetrated. But you don’t have to be an expert to help end the stigma. If someone speaks to you about their mental health, don’t think it’s for attention. It’s an act of enormous, and I mean enormous courage. Such illnesses can easily convince a sufferer that they should continue to fight their battle in silence. They may think that if they speak out, something terrible will happen. They may think that they’ll be judged, or that they’re being weak, or that their pain will be a burden on their friends and family. They may be worried that their fears and anxieties will sound ridiculous. Even if you don’t feel like you can do much for a friend who is struggling with their mental health – even if it’s frustrating and you feel powerless in the face of it – just listening and not judging can be a big help. What’s important is to make sure they have someone there for them, even if it can’t always be you.

You don’t have to be silent to be strong. Too often in our society we equate silence with strength; the “Keep calm and carry on” mentality. Talking doesn’t make you weak. Breaking the silence around mental health isn’t easy, even to loved ones – trust me, it could be one of the hardest things you ever do – but it would be a lot easier if we could break the stigma.

Start by being kind to yourself and to others. You’ll be helping a lot more than you think.

2 comments:

  1. Loved the last line, and this post.

    x leah symonne x

    www.itsleli.com

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  2. Thank you for the above post! Your descriptions of the feelings enveloping the ones with mental illness ring so true ... I hope this is simply due to your innate empathy and observational skills ....

    ReplyDelete