TW: Mental health
Last month involved Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Hundreds of thousands went online to increase the awareness, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit angry, after seeing some celebrities, microinfluencers and some friends on social media post about it. What annoyed me was how loosely and carelessly the phrase ‘mental health’ was tossed around. They were using it as if it’s a soft ball to be chucked and played with, when in reality, it’s a sensitive, fragile little thing that needs handling with care. You could tell that some people were posting about it, without really taking the time to understand the scale of the problem, or the diversity of it – mental health is not just depression and anxiety. It’s a whole host of different issues.
So there’s me, feeling a bit meh about so many people posting about it irresponsibly, due to the stigma and subsequent misconceptions. And at the same time, I’m feeling angry about how little it’s posted about, due to the stigma. How not enough people are comfortable enough to be open about it. How, it’s still only deemed socially acceptable to discuss your battles with body dysmorphia, anorexia, PTSD, bipolar disorder or postnatal depression in this one allocated week, and then you must go about the rest of the year suffering silently again.
When you Google mental health stigma, it comes up with some of the most common misconceptions like ‘people with depression are just lazy’ and ‘suicidal thoughts are just attention seeking’. These comments are so problematic, because it forces people to doubt themselves, and for me personally, it only encourages the illness in my head further to tell me that I’m lazy, useless and worthless. Trust me, we want to get out of bed and not be ‘lazy’. We just physically can’t. Luckily, there are several groups of people and organisations worldwide that are fighting the stigma: microinfluencers, charities, celebrities, parents, etc.
Steph Elswood, an influencer I follow on Instagram, is one of those people fighting against the stigma. For the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, she created and shared a video, to reveal some of her close friends and families’ different mental health conditions. I found myself shocked at how common it is, and then feeling silly for being shocked. Of course it’s this common. I knew that. I’m just not used to being able to visualise it like this before.
Due to its effectiveness, Steph’s video was widely shared across Instagram, so that it reached a variety of people, rather than just her 244,000 (!!) followers. And thank f*ck for that, because I think it’s important to visualise how common mental health issues are in this way. She inspired me to try and illustrate the same thing in my own personal social circle – including myself. After all, it would be a bit rubbish of me to complain about the stigma on here, but then hide my own struggles.
Over the past seven years, I’ve suffered from: depression, anxiety, self-harm, intrusive thoughts, suicidal thoughts and issues with self-esteem, particularly regarding my body.
Within a similar time frame, some of my family and close friends have suffered from: depression, several different anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, OCD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, anorexia and bulimia.
And that’s only the ones I’m aware of.
If I made a similar list, but with regards to physical illnesses, do you think the length would be the same? Absolutely not, because there is no stigma or misconception when you have a broken your leg from a skiing accident, or low blood pressure, or the flu.
I dream of a world where mental illness and physical illness are treated equally. Saying that though, I’d even argue that depression is actually a physical illness too. It drains you of energy, it limits your ability to get out of bed, and in some cases, physically burns or cuts or bruises a part of your body. But, on a really bad day, if you called in to work sick because you were ‘feeling depressed’, would your boss take it as seriously as the flu?
The main message I want you guys to take away from this post is simply that you’re not alone. Forgive the severe lack of originality in that phrase, but it’s something that for me personally, helped a lot and still does now. With regards to depression specifically, feeling down for no reason and feeling like you’re the only one, feeds into a vicious cycle of then feeling like you’re being ridiculous, and beating yourself up about it, and then subsequently feeling worse and so on. With the awareness that what you’re feeling is very normal, it becomes a lot easier to accept your situation, and work towards feeling better again.
As more and more awareness is spread around, there’ll be less and less insensitive comments, conversations or posts about mental health. I can understand why some people sometimes struggle to discuss the topic properly – mental health is so complex. It’s currently estimated that how much we know (or should I say how little we know…?) about the human brain is about 10% of what there is to know. Everyday, we are constantly learning about the brain in general and mental illness. Everyday, more and more research papers are released, and new ones started. And with that, mental health awareness is also increasing. If you look back 20 years ago in terms of the awareness, we’ve come a bloody long way. In another twenty years, we will have made even more progress. And I can’t f*cking wait!