Surviving, or Thriving? Mental Health Awareness Week

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Written by Gabriella Wieland – Student Journalist

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Campaign takes exactly that slogan at its thematic core, encouraging each and every one of us to take a rain check on our mental wellness. Perfectly encapsulating the fact that good mental health is more than simply the absence of a mental health ‘problem’, this week is also an important time to remind ourselves that poor mental health can manifest itself in myriad ways.

Over the decades, it has been so incredible to witness the evolution of the way we, as a society, perceive mental health. We have transformed from the days of simply shunning ‘the crazy’, physically separating them from our ‘normal’ society, to wanting to help those who are ill, to understanding that we all experience varying types of mental wellness and realising that mental health is incredibly complex.

People on social media are talking more openly about their experiences, more scientific backing exists as to why people’s brains are sometimes experiencing ‘different’ states of reality and, all in all, those experiencing difficulty with their mental wellness feel more validated, more understood, and less judged.

All of this, of course, can only be deemed as beneficial – so why are you sensing a slight, but nevertheless prominent, but from me?

Well, of course, all of this is incredible.

We’re moving forward, and dramatically so! But –  in the same way that there’s always room for improvement, I think we’ve still got a long way to go.

While our understanding of ‘known’ mental health issues such as depression and anxiety is improving, alongside our empathetic approach to those experiencing these ‘disorders’, our general understanding of mental health is not accelerating at the same rate.

Altered states of ‘typical’ mental wellbeing manifests itself in many ways and, unfortunately for those experiencing such states, their lacks a certain, but nevertheless very real, sense of empathy and understanding surrounding these ‘less known’ states.

The same people who often advocate the eradication of stigma surrounding mental health, who advocate talking more openly about our more negative experiences are – in few instances – sometimes the people who likewise (and often unknowingly) shun our most vulnerable members of society.

This is neither parties’ fault.

I do not intend this post to be a criticism on anyone advocating the importance of mental health, as that of course is only a good thing. My point is, however, that some of our most vulnerable members of society can experience different, and often very scary, states of mental health without you even knowing about it.

Our awareness of depression allows us to understand this. In the UK, more than 6,000 people die by suicide each year. That figure means that there is one death by suicide every two hours – and at least ten times that number attempt suicide.

That’s 60,000 people attempting to end their life each year. A large percentage of this statistic experience depression, yet, many of those who ‘choose’ not to be in this world anymore show absolutely no signs of experiencing poor mental health.

This does not mean they are not suffering.

Sometimes, the strange lady across the road who you think is rude, sometimes she is the way she is because her brain makes it so. Sometimes, we can’t tell if someone is not well.

Often, always, in fact, we do not know what is happening to somebody else’s brain. And that’s what makes the life we live and our current world so invigorating! In the age of advanced social media and being able to tap away our mind’s desires online at the click of a button, we still all experience our own unique realities through our own unique minds, and that is something we must cherish.

Equally, we must constantly remind ourselves that, sometimes, other people’s reality differs from our own. And the next time someone’s being ‘crazy’, perhaps we could all benefit from taking a step back from our own preconceptions (often, misconceptions) of ‘normal’, and wonder if they are experiencing any symptoms that are indicative of an illness or, even just different, to you. This may help us to understand why it is that they are acting in this ‘unusual’ way.

Of course, I’m not implying that the next time your girlfriend has too many Vodka Redbulls (guilty) and throws a pint over your head (not as guilty) that she is in an eternal state of misery and you should not be allowed to feel annoyed at said action.

That is not the point I am attempting, albeit waywardly, to make.

What I am trying to say, is that the actions of those who do not conform to our standards of ‘normal’ could be experiencing equally different states of ‘happiness’. With this in mind, let’s be careful in our actions, in our word choices, and let’s try and never ever (ever) prevent someone from seeking help by making them feel abnormal. One of the best things that we have learnt from this century is that there is no such thing as ‘normal’, anyway! I am aware that this can not always be 100% applicable, given that we are human and respond to human situations (such as getting in an argument with your Vodka-Redbull-drinking girlfriend) with human emotions and human responses.

I am neither insisting that you study the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders in its entirety, just in case you happen upon someone with said ‘disorder’. What we can do, though, is simply increase our level of understanding. If we can’t directly help an individual through our actions, let us not shun them with our careless word choices. While this may sound like the ramblings of a graduate in English Literature attempting to validate her £30,000 degree (again, guilty): words really do matter, folks.

Until our empathy and level of understanding increases, we can never wholly eradicate the stigma. Millions of people worldwide suffer with poor mental health: alone.

In such an advanced world, no one individual should ever suffer alone.

Shame-free help, support and advice should be readily available to anyone, without feeling as though they are ‘abnormal’.

Let’s keep on moving forward. Let’s keep on eradicating the stigma. Let’s keep encouraging people to talk. But, please, extend this to every aspect of your life. Whether that be the crazy cat lady down the road, or your incredibly irritating boss, let’s only go forward in our understanding and not revert back to the dark ages. Below are some tips which we could all use when thinking of others’ and our own mental wellness:

  1. Be Open-Minded

Phrases like ‘cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘pull yourself together’ don’t often help if your brain is experience a severe bout of ‘can’t snap out of it’. Try to be non-judgemental and simply listen. Someone experiencing a mental health problem often knows best what’s helpful to them.

  1. Show Your Support

Whether that be to a stranger on a bus who seems slightly quirky or your lifelong friend who is going through a chronic phase of mood-itis, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. Simply smiling at someone who seems to be experiencing low-mood can have a major impact. If they want to talk about this issue: great. If they don’t, just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important.

  1. Don’t Just Talk About Mental Health

Sometimes people who are mentally unwell, do not know (or want to accept) that they are mentally unwell. I’d like to think that us millennials have got a pretty good grasp on an open-door policy of our mental wellness and eradicating the stigma surrounding poor mental health. This isn’t always the case for a lot of people experiencing varying states of mental health. Most people don’t want to be defined by their mental health, and sometimes just a good old-fashioned ‘chinwag’ (I really am starting to turn into the 20-year-old version of my nan) is just what someone needs to boost their mood.

  1. Look After Yourself

This may be last on the list, but it is certainly by no means the least. How are we to look after each other and understand what other humans are going through if we can’t look after ourselves? Here is where that over-used but super important phrase ‘self-care’ comes flying in to the fore. If you’re trying to support someone who is experiencing mental difficulty, taking time out for yourself is paramount. Share the role of caring with others and set out clear boundaries to not take too much on!

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