Mental health is one of the many things that we tend not to rest our thoughts upon unless it effects us or someone close to us directly. But as it is now affecting 1 in 4 of us every year, it is important that we do not shy away from the fact that this is a growing problem. It is estimated that as little as 25% of those suffering with a mental health problem will get the support that they need and deserve.
Many people simply do not know how to approach issues surrounding mental health because they do not understand it. It is far too easy to become afraid of things that we do not understand and as this is not something that, you can physically see or grab a hold of, it often becomes something that people avoid because they feel awkward or embarrassed. Although not deliberate, this attitude only serves to stigmatise an issue that should be treated with sensitivity and respect.
The stigma surrounding mental health is not only ludicrously unfair but it is counter-intuitive. Apart from anything else, mental illness can and does create physical symptoms, but to treat a physical illness with greater respect than a mental illness in the first place is nonsensical, especially given that the perception of pain is controlled by our mind. Everything is controlled by our minds. So why are we not taking more care of, and paying greater attention to, our most vital organ?
Each of us should be far more aware of our own mental wellbeing, and if someone is having particular trouble with this then stigmatising them will only serve to isolate them and likely increase their issues. If a person breaks a bone or contracts a disease, do we simply turn a blind eye to their pain and suffering or do we put a cast around their break and treat their symptoms? Of course, we search for ways to piece them back together until they feel like themselves again, and of course we support them as and when they need it.
Mental illness can manifest itself in many ways and it is not always easy for others to fully understand what it is that those who suffer from things such as anxiety or depression are going through. And as such, it can leave people feeling isolated, afraid and alone. Try to imagine becoming scared of how your mind, and subsequently your body, will respond to everyday situations, and then you get one step closer to understanding. It is not the fear of leaving the house, it is the fear that leaving the relative safety of your home means that you can no longer control the situation and may no longer be able to control your own reactions. It is the fear that people will then witness these reactions and you will have to try and explain something to them which you yourself are struggling to fully understand.
I cannot claim to be an expert on the subject myself, however I have seen people close to me struggle with situations like these; I have seen them scared of their symptoms but also scared of the reactions of other people. A bad response can only really come from someone who is uneducated about a subject and to be honest none of us were taught how to recognise, let alone effectively help, someone with a mental health problem.
As with any issue, awareness is key. Many people will spend months or years of their lives struggling more than they need to be, simply because they do not know what it is that they are going through or how easily they may be able to get help. Our minds are beautiful, powerful and complicated. They are unique, wonderful but also scary. But above all they are important. Far too many people are needlessly suffering because they do not have access to the information, advice and support they need and deserve to get well and stay well.
We must improve education surrounding mental health in our schools so that children can understand and spot these issues in themselves and others from an early age. We must continue to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding at all levels of education in order to stop those who are suffering being afraid to open up, and to stop those around them being afraid to ask. And we must rid our societies of the stigma which purports silence as an acceptable response to this growing problem.
During the last parliament, funding for mental health was cut dramatically in real terms, which is frankly appalling, and Theresa May’s pledge of allegiance in July to those suffering with mental health problems means very little if she does not credibly invest in improving the lives of those who need it. As for the rest of us, we never know who might be going through what, so we must be kind to one another always, and aspire to be someone who people feel they can lean on. And for those who are struggling, don’t give up and never be afraid to open up. World Mental Health day is a fantastic day aimed at raising global awareness and advocacy, but let’s hope that by this time next year credible steps have been made towards greater understanding and support for those who need it.