Mental Health Awareness Month

We live in a world where being ‘healthy’ is a cultural obsession; eating right, going to the gym, being active and looking after our outward appearance. There seems to be a new trending post almost every week on social media about eating the right kind of food or being on the right kind of fitness regime. But how often do you go onto Instagram and see a post with some catchy hashtag about mental health? Or how many times have you walked into your office to hear someone talking openly about their early morning session with their counsellor? The answer is, while not unheard of, not often enough. Mental Health is a understandably sensitive subject, and people can be keen to change the subject and move on from ‘that’ conversation. As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, this shouldn’t signify the end of talking about mental health, but the beginning of a more open and frank discussion.

Indeed, we are a nation fixated with looking good and being the ‘best us’ we possibly can – which don’t get me wrong, isn’t a bad thing – eating well, looking after our fitness and physical appearance is crucially important. Unfortunately, a healthy body and a balanced diet is only part of what we need as humans. In the workplace and the media, we need to start considering how we can give a platform for talking about mental health.

The health of our minds dictates so much of our everyday lives. Happiness, joy, determination, drive, knowledge and even relationships all flow out of the condition of our mental health. At the moment, it’s almost as though we are all for working hard to make sure we look good on the outside, but ignoring the stuff on the inside.

For people suffering with their mental health, an obvious issue with sweeping it under the rug and pretending it isn’t there, is that it doesn’t just cease to exist. We don’t want to be putting a filter on our lives of  ‘everything is OK’ when for many people it isn’t.

Not long ago, the World Health Organisation announced that one in four people in the world will be affected by a diagnosable mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Worse still, they have estimated that up to 78% of sufferers do not seek help. Just stop and think about that fact for a second before you move on.

That means statistically, almost every time you get on a tram, walk into your work place, or go for a coffee, someone there is probably dealing with a mental health issue, and to make it worse it’s likely that they haven’t told anyone about it. No friends, family or colleagues of that person even know it’s going on.

Worse still are the reasons why they haven’t told anyone. A large number of people who have battled mental health problems, when asked, admitted that they didn’t talk about it because they were embarrassed, ashamed and scared of how people would react, not only around their personal lives but in their careers. If you break that down, people don’t talk about their mental health, simply because they don’t know how to be open and vulnerable. This is where a huge problem lies. People have convinced themselves and others that if we ‘filter out’ lives, look like we have it all together and pretend that we are happy, then this will somehow lead to genuine fulfilment and happiness.

Sadly, this is more likely to make people’s mental health worse, and push people even further away from opening up and being honest.

I think by this point many people will be asking what actually is a ‘diagnosable mental health disorder’, which is a good question as many people don’t actually realise what things fall under the blanket of ‘mental illness’ and a large part of that is because we don’t talk about what it is. There are even people today in the world suffering and dealing with something they don’t actually know is even classed as mental health.

To give you some context of what sort of things we are talking about, here are some of the most common mental health problems people deal with:

  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder

This really only scratches the surface, the list goes on and on and on, but as the issue becomes bigger, open conversations about it seem to become smaller and as a result, we are just left with statistics and numbers, like that as of 2016, one in five people would admit they have considered taking their own life. A commonly repeated statistic is that one of the biggest killers of men under the age of 45 is suicide. Statistics paint a picture and grab people’s attention but a problem with numbers and stats are, we forget that behind all of them are people. Every stat is a real person and the more we ignore what is right in front of us, the more people are going to keep going through life unhappy, unsatisfied and unaware that it’s OK to be open.

That is why we have a month like Mental Health Awareness Month, which is here to try and shed some light on the darkness, and fantastic national campaigns, such as the Blue Light campaign for emergency service workers.

Mental Health Awareness Month has been a chance for us to stand up and say to all those people who are suffering on their own, that they are not alone and that they don’t need to keep everything bottled up. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s not something that you need to hide away from your friends and family, it’s affecting millions of people in the world every single day and every single one of them needs someone in their lives they can be open and honest with.

Mental Health problems can’t be quickly fixed, you can’t go into a hospital and come out with a solution. Looking after your mental health is more like going to the gym, it takes time, it takes consistency, and for it to be done effectively it needs people around you to keep you on track and support you through it.

The only thing more exhausting than having mental illness is pretending that you don’t.

I am unsure who said it, but I think that the above quote sums it up well.

This month we have stood together, and been open with each other, and we must continue to do so. It’s time to remember that behind all the stats and figures are real people, and that it’s our responsibility to create an environment where people feel they can open up about it.