This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. I know, I know, it always seems to be someone/something’s special day or week or month. But whilst we have the ridiculous ones such as Talk Like A Pirate Day (19th September, if you’re interested), these national and international ‘holidays’ can also be used for good, with the examples of Black History Month, LGBT History Month and International Women’s Day, to name but a few. I’d like to think this week falls into the latter category.
If you know me, or have read much of my blog before, you’ll already know why this week is an especially important one for me. A long time sufferer of depression, generalised anxiety disorder and more recently PTSD, over the past few years my mental health problems have wreaked havoc in almost every area of my life. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t one aspect of my life that has been left untouched, from my studies, to work, to my social interactions and home life. Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can be debilitating and even life threatening, though unfortunately, they are rarely taken as seriously.
‘Let’s change the conversation from one of silence and shame to one of optimism and support’
– Prince William, at the launch of the mental health campaign Heads Together
As a writer who has been dealing with various mental health issues for some time now, my aim has always been to try and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, by talking about it as freely and openly as I feel able. It’s not always easy. Anyone who has tried to be open about their mental health problems in the past will be no stranger to the eye rolls, the disbelief and the ‘oh god not this again’. We are so frequently met with contempt and impatience, which often boils down to simple lack of understanding (although, admittedly, sometimes people are just assholes).
This needs to change for all sorts of reasons. It needs to change because negative reactions can force people to become withdrawn and isolated, both of which can be incredibly dangerous. It needs to change because mental health issues are on the rise more rapidly than ever before and we need to work together to stop this before it gets any worse. It needs to change because on average, one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds and that number is predicted to increase to one every 20 seconds by 2020. That statistic includes children as young as 10 years old. Four times more men kill themselves every year than women, as they tend to find it harder to share their worries and difficult experiences with others. Other studies can tell you that children as young as six can experience suicidal thoughts and feelings. That’s heartbreaking.
I’m sharing this information because as heartbreaking as it is, it is the truth. But it is a truth that can be changed. This years focus for MHAW is relationships, which I’m super pleased about as I personally believe that relationships are what get you through mental struggle. It’s true that you can’t simply love someone’s mental illness away, but that love and support is a vital part of recovery. Having people who you can be vulnerable with, who you can share your most terrifying thoughts and feelings with is crucial, whether that be a friend, family member, colleague, teacher, therapist or anyone else you can think of. Love, support and trust are invaluable and I am continually grateful for those who are there for me through my lowest points. I couldn’t do it without you.
So this week, I’ll be talking about topics that are often misunderstood due to lack of conversation around them, in the hope of enlightening some and encouraging others. I’d love to know if anyone else will be sharing their stories this week, so please let me know if you are doing so I can check them out. Together, we can work together and break down the stigma towards mental health so that no one needs to suffer in silence again.