If you hadn’t noticed – it’s been trending worldwide for most of the day – it’s World Mental Health Day.
First celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, World Mental Health Day is now recognised on October 10th every year. Advice and information is shared, statistics are released, money is raised, personal stories written and challenges to stigma are made.
With the help of social media, it gets bigger every year – which means both awareness and money are raised to help those living with mental illness. But some things stay the same, and not everything is as helpful and positive as it looks on the surface.
I, and many people I have communicated with through social media, have very mixed feelings towards this day and other similar ‘Awareness Days’. So I thought I’d list a few things, because… well, balance.
But first, I did a Twitter Poll:
1. It’s Generally a Positive Thing: It’s hardly a reliable statistic, but almost 60% of people who replied on my timeline think that days such as this are positive. I had more in depth explanations from people with mixed views, so what the main positives are, I couldn’t put my finger on. BUT it shows that raising awareness by having days is a good thing. The more people who open up and get involved with the conversation, the easier it becomes for those who have reservations to think about joining in. Because it’s a trending topic, it feels like people have your back and you’re not out there on your own. Safer in numbers. You may not agree with everything everyone says, but there’s a common thread and that can really help people to learn that they’re not alone and that there are people who understand and can offer help.
2. Sense of Community: I have made so many friends, both on and offline, through working with, writing for and fundraising for mental health charities. I’ve run marathons, climbed mountains, jumped out of planes and attended and organised events. In everything mental health related I have ever done, I’ve felt more supported than ever before and have made friends for life. There’s a special bond there when you share experiences and feelings and just have that one thing in common, yet learn from each other too. If there’s one thing I know about folk who are open about their mental health, it’s that they all want to help everyone else regardless of how it affects them. Everyone else comes first. It’s all very nice, but we have to remind each other that we need to take care of ourselves too (myself included).
3. Changing One Person’s Opinion is Enough: We can’t make everyone understand or empathise, it’s impossible. But if something someone says on World Mental Health Day is enough to make one person challenge their preconceptions, or think differently about mental health, then that is enough. Make people think twice, ask questions, make comparisons, challenge stereotypes. Changing one person’s opinion is better than changing none.
4. Time to Reflect: Some people talk about their own mental health every day. Some not at all. Those who do talk about it openly do so for a number of different reasons, but one of the most likely is that they are desperate to help others. It may come across as self-indulgent, but from my experience, people with mental health problems are the least self-indulgent or attention-seeking people I’ve ever met or known.
Having a day set aside for all things ‘Mental Health’ is good in that it encourages us all to take a step back and focus on what it means to us, how it affects us, what and who helps to make everything seem not quite as bad. Very often, we sweep our own wellbeing under the carpet, make up excuses, say we’re fine and just try our best to get on with life without anyone noticing that we’re falling apart inside. We hide it so much, that if days like this allow us to give ourselves a break from that, then that can only be a good thing.
5. You can read a load of really good stuff about mental health. Here’s a small selection:
1. Questionable ‘Mental Health Ambassadors’: There are two in particular I have problems with and admittedly, hold massive grudges about. The first one is Professor (not a real professor) Green. There was the time he Tweeted a load of ignorant rubbish about Bulimia and, presumably not learning a thing about eating disorders in the aftermath, shared Instagram pictures of his wife and tagged them as ‘Thinsperation’. He later deleted these posts but said, “I don’t regret a single thing I’ve tweeted but I want to erase the past and start afresh.”
Then there’s a fresh face to the mental health poster boy crowd, James Arthur, the X-Factor winner and recently announced Ambassador for the otherwise brilliant charity, SANE. It would be fine, except I think many of us are forgetting one of the main reasons for his downfall in 2013, a disgusting display of Homophobia. Some stats for you:
- LGB people are twice as likely as heterosexual people to have suicidal thoughts or to make suicide attempts
- LGB people are two to three times more likely than heterosexual people to suffer from depression
- Over half of gay young people deliberately harm themselves yet the NSPCC estimates that for young people in general its between 1 in 15 and 1 in 10.
- A third of GB men who have accessed healthcare services in the last year have had a negative experience related to their sexual orientation
He’s got a damn good PR team, I’ll give him that.
2. ‘Inspirational’ Quotes: Most of them, at least. Yes it’s down to personal opinion and I’m sure they help lots of people, but I’m a grumpy cynic and most of it is just fluffy, flimsy bullshit.
3. Shitty Comments: Speaking openly and honesty about mental health isn’t easy for a lot of people, especially if/when they have to face the nastier repercussions of that. There are a lot of very bored, lonely people out there who enjoy kicking people while they’re down. They’ll argue, abuse, disagree with and laugh at people solely because they have nothing better to do. They don’t give a shit about what anyone else has been through or how much guts it took for someone to post something. They don’t care about the consequences of their actions and won’t listen to reason. They don’t want to understand, all they want to do is cause upset and unfortunately, people speaking out about mental health are seen as vulnerable, an easy target. Nice and understanding of the Daily Mail, then, to call internet trolls ‘psychopaths’.
4. Media Not Reading Media Guidelines: It’s great that, for one day a year when tabloids take a break from blaming mental illness for shootings, aeroplane crashes and anything else not explained by terrorism, they put aside a few columns to dedicate to raising awareness of mental health. It’s just a shame that, more often than not, they either don’t read, or don’t take any notice of the correct media reporting guidelines. They use language that is outdated and adds to the stigma, reinforce stereotypes where in fact mental illness does not discriminate, go into dangerous amounts of detail where not necessary and glamourise or sensationalise something which is really just a living hell. If you are a journalist, reporter or writer, here’s a handy list. No excuse now. Do your research.
5. All Talking and Not Enough Doing: It’s all very well and good talking and opening up and encouraging people to seek help for their mental health problems, but the reality is that there isn’t enough help out there. Under the Tory Government, as demand for mental health services has increased, provision has decreased. Waiting times are longer, free treatment is scarce, there’s little if any early intervention and therefore by the time a person gets the help they need, their situation has become worse. Crisis teams are under-resourced and over-stretched, specialist units rely on bank staff who have no knowledge or understanding of the conditions suffered by the people they are looking after, people are being sent home from A&E after a suicide attempt without even being referred for further treatment and the number of young people with mental health problems is growing year on year. It’s a desperate situation and it’s just frustrating, sometimes even infuriating. When you see Kate, Wills and Harry encouraging people to ask for help, you just want to reply, “What help?”