May is Mental Health Month, and this week specifically is Mental Health Awareness Week. I love how people have been sharing their stories, the support people have shown and the attention that’s going to mental health, and wish it could be like this all the time. We all need to be talking more about our mental health, we have to listen to what people with a mental illness have to say, amplify their voices and raise awareness every single week. Why, you ask?
Because mental health affects everyone.
We all have a mental health, just like we all have a physical health. For some, the struggles with their mental health are temporary, they come and go, or only get triggered in certain situations. For example, going through a period of mourning after a loved one dies, or suffering mentally after being bullied, or just having a bad day. Others suffer from a mental illness, and struggle with their mental health more consistently. And one in four adults will have mental health related issues at some point in their life. One. In. Four. Twenty-five percent.
And there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health.
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. Talking about it at work can be hard, or impossible for some. Even though someone with depression can be high-functioning and kick ass at work, many live in fear that just telling someone about their depression might end their career.
For many, talking to their doctor, family or friends about their mental illness results in the very opposite of support, love and help. We’ve all heard the stories of even doctor’s telling people with depression to “just go for a walk”, or family members telling them “they’re just being lazy”.
And the media plays a huge role in creating and maintaining this stigma. They could be sharing the stories of those with a mental illness, as told by them. They could be respecting their opinions, sharing them, learning from them and create a platform that promotes both empathy and seeking help. But we all know that’s not the case. Sure, more and more bloggers and public figures are speaking out, and social media is giving all of us a platform.
It’s a good start, but far from good enough to end the stigma. The media still likes to emphasise mental health issues of serial killers, diagnose Trump as ‘mentally ill’ just because he’s an asshole, and just in generally paint a negative picture surrounding mental health and mental illnesses, while ignoring or ridiculing the real issues. I’ve heard from a few people that after sharing their diagnosis with others, they get viewed as dangerous, unstable or inferior.
This stigma makes it hard to talk about, or seek help for mental health.
Talking about something as serious as mental health, something that can be so present and overwhelming, that can make the smartest person think they’re stupid, something that as big as mental health can be really hard to talk about. Because of its nature, affecting the way we think, it will always be a scary experience to step forward and talk about symptoms regardless of the stigma around it. But the way people view others with a mental illness, or the way they call others ‘weak’ for having a bad mental health day, doesn’t make things easier.
On one side, there are the people not taking it seriously, thinking it’s all an exaggeration and telling people with anxiety to “just stop worrying”, as if it was that easy, who think depression is the same as just having a bad day and will be cured by going for a walk, and who generally do not see why some need medication.
Then, on the other hand, you have those who do the complete opposite, who think people with a mental illness can either not function properly in society, need constant guidance, should not be taken seriously, or even think people with a mental illness are automatically dangerous and a threat to society.
With so many misconceptions, and so many people who may point and judge, talking about mental health can be hard. Some might not want to speak up because they don’t want to deal with the negative comments, because they know that hearing to “just stop worrying” when their anxiety is destroying them will make matters worse, because they’re afraid of losing their job or losing their friends, because they don’t want to be viewed as ‘weird‘ or ‘dangerous‘. Because it seems more comfortable to struggle in silence.
But we can end the stigma, and create an environment that shows support, not prejudice.
Every time we share our story, every time we show what people with a mental illness look like (not like serial killers, but like you and me), every time we openly show support to those who have mental health trouble or share their voices, every time we start a conversation about mental health, we create awareness and slowly reduce the stigma. And it’s important that ending the stigma is not just the responsibility of those with a mental illness, as, because of said stigma, it’s particularly hard to talk about.
We can’t and shouldn’t force people to share their stories, especially not in an environment that can be this hostile or hurtful, but what we can do is encourage everyone to be welcoming and supportive to those who do decide to speak up, whether they talk about it publicly, like on a blog, or just with a family member or coworker. And we can do more for those who already decided to talk about their mental illness. We can support them better, be a better friend, listen to them and take them seriously.
The stigma has to end, because 1 in 4 will experience mental health related issues, and because people struggling with their mental health deserve just as much support as those struggling with their physical health.