Monday, 16 January 2017

Breaking The Stigma - Mental Health


The topic of mental health is something that's been on pretty much everyone's lips recently. Prime Minister Theresa May just announced a major government plan to enhance treatment of mental health conditions, VICE have added 'Mental Health' as one of their featured tabs online, and a major study has revealed that over 75% of university students experience a mental health problem of some degree within their three years at university. So if this is such a hot topic, then why are so many of us suffering in silence?

The concept of a mental health condition may appear confusing to some. Unlike your physical health, your mental health is not tangible nor apparent, and can be effected by various different mediums - sometimes without the individual even consciously realising its deterioration. This lack of understanding and awareness is something that, in my opinion, predominantly fuels the stigma surrounding mental health. For a start, the individual experiencing it has about as much a clue of what's happening to them as a decent-minded being at a Trump rally. (Ooosh, just had to get that political reference in there. Apologies to my Tory father). In all seriousness though, the decline into poor mental health can be an incredibly intense and petrifying experience, especially to someone with a lack of knowledge. Sidenote: when I say mental health, I don't just mean the obvious anxiety and depression, but the whole lot; schizophrenia, body dysmorphia, personality disorders, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, the list goes on. Many people fail to acknowledge these conditions as valid mental illnesses and/or get spooked the second anyone exhibits any of the symptoms of the aforementioned conditions. The lack of comprehension of what is going on in their own mind can often leave an individual feeling conflicted of whether to address the issue, which then only enhances the symptoms more. If there's one thing I learnt in school about mental health, it was even if you're suffering, keep your mouth goddamn mouth shut, kid.

Why is this the case though? Why is a mental health condition perceived as taboo, and something to be very hush-hush about? I'm still trying to figure the same thing out myself. The only logical conclusion I've reached is that everyone is too obsessed with painting the perfect version of their life. Thanks to Facebook culture, you can instantly make all of your friends, "friends", family members, acquaintances, hairdressers, ex-bosses, and creepy uncles aware of just how "happy" you are with just the click of a button. Oh, God forbid you had any problems! Even if you did have problems, don't even think about speaking openly about it, you'll just get called out for being attention seeking in a sea full of engagements, newborn babies, mediocre lunches, prosecco, and Michael Kors bags.

This social media culture is both advancing and hindering our progress with mental health. On the one hand, you have individuals who are so refreshingly open and honest about their experience with mental health, often acting as positive role models and helping others in ways they didn't even know they could. However, on the other, you have the shamers. Shamers, let me put something into perspective for you: if you don't think it's justified to shame someone for speaking out about having a physical condition, then don't shame someone for speaking out about having a mental condition. From someone who suffers from various mental health problems myself, I think I can speak for myself and the majority when I say that shaming us only makes symptoms worse. Calling someone out for speaking about something that was probably already quite difficult to speak about in the first place only makes matters worse, and more often then not can leave an individual feeling like they have no one to talk to, and may ultimately lead to suicide. So here's a top tip hot off the press: think before you shame. You don't know what one person might be experiencing, and if being open about it helps them cope.


To be honest, I'm quite happy to be objectively open about my struggles with mental health. I know I wish that I had someone to look up to when I was younger and experiencing these symptoms for the first time, and I know others feel the same. A friend of mine who struggles with an eating disorder and wishes to remain anonymous has said "I feel embarrassed to talk about it. I feel like people will judge me", which is an understandable assumption given the abuse some people have gotten in the past. Take YouTuber Eugenia Cooney for example, who is quite clearly suffering from an eating disorder. The comments section of her YouTube videos are flooded with pages of abuse and concern, which in turn might only enhance her symptoms. I haven't been able to speak to Eugenia on this, but it truly is the highest degree of symptom shaming.


When it comes to suffering from a mental illness, there really isn't anything to feel ashamed of. Your behaviour may alter as a result of this condition, but it's important to remember that most cases are not permanent. Just a bump in the road. I think the second you admit that you suffer from these issues and accept them, the easier it is to heal. This is where I truly believe that social media comes in; everything else is shared on social media, including huge personal life events such as relationships, so why not share something that is temporarily changing who you are and effecting your life tremendously? From my experience of being open on social media, I've helped people and people have helped me. The beauty of social sharing.

I hope me writing this helps to defeat the stigma surrounding mental health, even if just on a minor scale. Being honest throughout writing this has actually helped me cope with an episode, as I sit typing this in the dark at 04:23 AM Monday morning with a full day ahead of me. For those of you who care/are bored enough to have read this entire article, I'll be posting my mental health story soon, which also explains why I've been MIA in the blogosphere.

If anyone needs any assistance of coping with MH problems I'm also happy to listen and aid, just drop me a line via email or social platform.

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