Today, the 10th of October, is World Mental Health Day.
I was debating whether or not to make a post today, as I have done in previous years. Mental health, for me, is a topic of conversation which dominates my life everyday and I do my best to talk about it to as many people as possible. Not because I want sympathy, but to attempt to make talking about mental health as normal as talking about an arm fracture, or a sore throat. Those that still dramatically stigmatise against mental health problems fail to recognise that they too, have a state of mental health. Their state of mental health may be a lot better than the peers they stereotype, but regardless, all mental health has the capacity to deteriorate at any given time, for a multitude of different circumstances, often out of the individuals control. It's a scary thought, yes, but if we take into consideration the fact that it is estimated that 1 in 4 people battle mental health problems day in day out (and bearing in mind, this is obviously not counting those who refuse or are too scared to ask for help), in 2014, is stigmatising really necessary anymore? Have we not moved on from this? Have we not reached a state where instead of laughing in the face of the mentally ill, we open up a hand to them for support and guidance?
I honestly believe we've come a long way in reducing the stigmatisation of mental illnesses, I've confidently been able to speak to both of my bosses about my struggles without the intense fear that I'm going to be fired on the spot, I've been able to make videos about my illnesses which I've publicly posted on my Facebook page with the notion that if someone is unsupportive about my struggles, then quite honestly they don't deserve a place in my life. We have reached a stage in society where we are talking about mental health on the news, more and more documentaries are being aired on the subject, celebrity ambassadors are getting involved to speak out (think Stephen Fry and recently the internet sensation Zoella). For any individual, to witness someone going through mental health problems and the impact it has on their life is a difficult thing - especially if the individual has no real connection with the mentally ill and may not understand what the other is going through. Despite this, there is a lot more support, I feel, guided to those with mental health problems than ever before.
I do think there are flaws with the way mental health has been projected through the media, and feel there is a lot more work to be done, despite being immensely proud of how with the increase of social media we have as a community managed to reach out to as many people as we possibly can. Following a video that I posted on Facebook last year where I opened up about my struggles, I had a multitude of people contact me, most whom I hadn't spoken to in years, contact me to tell me their stories and experiences. That is exactly WHY I do what I do.
There are a few things I feel that must be worked on/addressed, however:
- We've begun to see illnesses such as depression and anxiety as more commonplace and as illnesses that have gradually become more accepted in society. Yet, it's important to remember that mental health isn't just 'depression and anxiety' - although these illnesses may be the most common. It's shocking to see that in 2014, illnesses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders (such as BPD), bipolar disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder still have more negative connotations associated with them and are the illnesses that, in my opinion, tend to adher to the stereotypes people do still often associate with mental health. It's important to remember that mental health issues are complex and can affect anybody in a multitude of different ways, but this does not mean that we should be feared. We are humans, too.
- Enough with people who dismiss mental health problems because we 'should' be happy, for any given reason. I'm often told, and have been told this week infact, that I 'shouldn't' be depressed because of all of the incredible things I've got going for me. It doesn't work as simply as seeing a new light at the end of the tunnel, reminding yourself you have a family, friends, a career, and then snapping out of the rut that your illness has found yourself in. I've tried for the last week and a half to get myself back into University, to get myself studying for the degree I love so much, to 'sort myself out', and it has proven unsuccessful. To tell us to try harder only belittles us further, to tell us how we 'should' feel has the same impact.
- Social media is an extremely powerful tool for distributing facts and dispelling myths surrounding mental health, but I feel it has reached a stage where we have opened up to others who already struggle, to those who already know the facts and figures, and therefore the information is, in a way wasted. It's important to share posts and videos on Facebook, to family and friends, to speak to your work colleagues, and educating the otherwise ignorant - as difficult as it can be, it is essential that the people you're actually 'raising awareness' to, is not wasted on those who already understand plenty about mental health - it's very easy sometimes to project our awareness raising to the wrong sort of people. In the next year I aim to open up to wider social media platforms, including possibly getting back into YouTube again, and working with mental health charities to get involved with some public campaigning.
- The emphasis on mental health being of equal importance as ones physical health. The incredible author Matt Haig (author of 'The Humans' and the upcoming novel 'Reasons to Stay Alive') tweeted yesterday and nipped it in the bud when he said - 'Mental health IS physical health. The mind is as influenced by the body as the heart is' and he couldn't be more correct in his statement. It is important to recognise that the mind and the body work in unison, and neither one should prioritise over the other. I spoke in my last post about self-harm, and wondered who was it that told us that our pain should be public? I express this to you all again today. In my 22 years of existence, my depression has brought me greater pain than any physical illness ever has done, and some would call me extremely lucky, but I see that not as luck. I wouldn't wish the way depression, anxiety or BPD have ever made me feel on anyone else and I don't know anybody who would. It's time to see the mind and the body as one unit and take them as seriously as the other.
- Suicide is still a large taboo and I think that has been highlighted this year, especially with the death of Robin Williams, a huge public figure, loved and respected by many, who following his death many couldn't quite grasp 'why' he has chosen to take his own life, saying he had no right or reason to. Suicide is a whole lot more than an inconvenience to the commuter who had their train delayed or a bother because you were stuck in your car for three hours whilst police, medics and trained staff were trying to talk somebody off a bridge. Think of the bigger picture here. I've seen so many awful tweets circulating around social media in recent years regarding suicide, especially if it involves public transport or commuting, often referring to the 'selfishness' of suicide, the whole 'why should these people inconvenience MY day, can't they just go and die somewhere else' tweets (genuine tweets I have seen). Perhaps consider who is being selfish here. I made a post about suicide back in 2013 which you can go and read here. There is also an event taking place tomorrow entitled Walking Out of Darkness, associated with the charity CLASP, which a 10 mile walk to raise awareness for mental illnesses, suicide, in memory of those lost to suicide. More information can be found here. It shocks me that still suicide is not being taken seriously enough by the general public. It affects lives each and every day and even the thought of suicide, something I have experienced, is one of the most unbearable situations to be in, and should be talked about much more than it is.
If you've never had a conversation about mental health, maybe today is a good place to start. My aim over the next year is to broaden the platforms in which I speak about mental health, to reach out to more people. I think the most important thing to recognise is that, despite my illness and my need to constantly spread messages and information about mental health, I am not my illness and I do lead a life beside it. My depression, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder are what makes me who I am and have led me into the person I am today, but they are NOT who I am and I refuse to be recognised as just a girl with BPD, I am a girl who loves her English degree, who loves her partner of over 5 years, and a girl with ambition. I'm determined that my mental health problems will never take that away from me.
Finally, one thing I must say is to look after yourself. Never be scared to reach out for help if you're going through a difficult time, never be scared to tell people or open up about how you feel. We all have the capacity to feel and have emotions, and we are all as important as each other and deserve the help we require at any given time. Be kind to yourself.