The end of 2018 saw 100 years since the end of the First World War, and I struggle to understand why mental health still remains such a taboo subject, considering how much life has changed for us all since then. As a society, we openly talk about physical health problems, from visible skin conditions to less obvious digestive problems that interfere with our everyday lives. Some people are even happy to flaunt their embarrassing issues on TV in front of millions… Yet we still shy away from talking about mental health, and it is about time that changed.
I’m not writing this to shame people into talking about their mental health if they are not comfortable or ready to do so. I am just as guilty of avoiding the subject as others, in turn only fuelling the taboo and the stigma attached to mental health conditions a little more. However, I have become extremely passionate about the subject of mental health over recent years. Therefore, I want to encourage others to share their experiences and their journeys to help raise awareness and normalise mental health in the same fashion as any physical health concern.
I firmly believe that mental health it is just as important, if not more important, than our physical health. In fact, anyone who has experienced mental health issues could tell you that it has a physical effect on our bodies. Stress, depression and anxiety (to name just a few) have funny ways of upsetting our physical equilibrium, causing digestive problems, fatigue, palpitations, aches, pains and more.
These terms are used loosely, and you often hear people complaining that they are stressed at work, feeling anxious about moving house, or feeling depressed about the state of the economy. These are often feelings rather than conditions (and I am not dismissing them in any way), so although we don’t openly talk about mental health, some of the terms are banded around us every day. It is a bit like when we complain about being “starving hungry”. Let’s face it, thankfully, most of us will never truly know what it is to be starving. Whereas, the number of people who will experience depression, stress, anxiety, or any other mental health condition at some point in their lives is staggering; yet we still use the terms so loosely.
Recent statistics suggest that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In fact, as many as 1 in 6 people could even have experienced a common mental health concern in the past week alone! So, think about your family or your friendship group… Statistically, 1 or 2 of them could be struggling with an unseen condition right now without you even knowing about it, and I find that very sad! We should be able to share this with each other and surround ourselves with help and support from people who care.
I am not writing this blog for the sympathy vote. As mentioned, I purely want to normalise mental health in line with physical health, and do my bit towards breaking down the unnecessary stigma that still exists. However, many of my friends reading this may be surprised that I am the 1 in 4. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and my mental health journey began over 7 years ago. I hid it well, as many of us do, continuing with my daily life as if there wasn’t a problem at all, hiding it from my friends but struggling nonetheless. I often get comments about how bubbly I am and how I’m always smiling and optimistic, but I rarely share my story with people because I don’t want it to change their perception of who I am. After all, I am still me and nothing will ever change that.
My depression and anxiety were triggered by a series of events when I was in University. You never know if a mental health condition is going to creep up on you and you never expect to be the 1 in 4, but it can happen to absolutely anyone at any time in their life. Nobody is immune, there are no vaccinations to prevent it. Mental health issues can affect the young, old, intelligent, rich, poor, outgoing, introvert, popular, quiet, talkative, active, responsible, happy, healthy and everyone in-between. It is unbiased.
Having a mental health condition is no reflection upon you as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or attention-seeking or less able than anybody else. In truth, it is just like having a physical health condition like asthma, diabetes or psoriasis. It doesn’t mean anything other than having a health concern and many are even caused by chemical imbalances in the brain – a physical cause. But unfortunately, the stigma lies around a lack of understanding of mental health conditions, but this surprises me too, when most of us probably don’t even understand physical health conditions like osteoporosis, stroke or motor neurone disease either. This doesn’t affect our perception of a person at all, so why should a mental health concern be any different?
Collectively, we need to change the way mental health problems are perceived and we can start by educating ourselves. There are numerous mental health charities out there, like MIND and Mental Health Foundation, that provide a wealth of information about different mental health conditions, in addition to a range of help and support services for those who need them. It is worth taking just ten minutes of your time to browse their websites instead of scrolling endlessly through social media, as you might just recognise some unexpected signs and symptoms, or discover support mechanisms that can change yours or someone else’s life for the better. I doubt social media can offer you that! Use a little time every day to learn more and broaden your horizons. You’ll be surprised what you can discover in just ten minutes, not just around the subject of mental health.
But we can also help each other by sharing our experiences and being more open about our own mental health journeys when we are ready to do so. I have already spoken to some friends who I could resonate with, and I confided my experiences in them only to find that they are experiencing similar struggles. Now we can help and support each other and talk about our mental health instead of hiding it as if we are embarrassed. I know my experience has helped others to seek advice from their doctors and start their pathway towards improving their mental health, and I hope this blog helps others to do the same by breaking down the barriers and ending the stigma a little more, with every person who reads it.
If you’re concerned about your mental health or about anyone you know, I urge you to seek advice from your GP, talk to your friends and family, and explore the online support available from MIND, Mental Health Foundation and other charities. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid; my mental health journey is part of who I am, and I truly feel that I’ve come out the other side as a stronger person, because I am now able to help others too.
I will soon be writing blogs about different mechanisms I have learnt to help cope with my anxiety and depression, and I’d love to hear what has been helpful in your experiences too.
Let’s end the stigma together!