We, as a society, are fundamentally awful at talking about mental health. As soon as the topic comes up we avoid it like the plague—That’s harmful. That silence can be deadly, so it’s about time we break it and scream from the rooftops about mental health because it should not be ignored.
There is an enormous stigma surrounding mental health that needs to be challenged. Young people suffering from mental illness are dismissed because they’re “teenagers.” Women are dismissed because they’re “emotional.” Men are dismissed because it’s not “manly.” This stigma is damaging and needs to be erased— and this can be done by talking about mental health issues.
One quarter of the population of the UK will experience a mental illness at least one point in their lives. The stigma that surrounds mental health causes the subject to become taboo, which leads to people being too scared to speak out. Being trapped in your own mind is terrifying. Having someone to talk to is vital, otherwise it leads to a build-up of negative emotions that, one day, will just explode out of you.
Imagine a river in the rain. At first, the water level rises slowly; nothing too drastic, but different to the usual. The more it rains, the worse it gets. There’s a storm coming, and there is only so much rain the river can hold. It keeps raining and raining and raining and then— the river overflows.
That’s what it’s like to suffer silently through mental illness. Overtime, it floods uncontrollably out of you.
And to those saying: “It’s all in your head.” Well, yes. It’s a mental illness. It affects our brains and surprise surprise; our brains are in our heads. Does this make it any less serious? No. Should it be treated as seriously as physical health? Yes.
As author Matt Haig once said: “Mental health is physical health. Bodies and minds interact.”
Mental illness is not infectious. It’s not contagious. It shouldn’t be treated any differently to physical health. If I need a sick day because my brain simply cannot cope with life that day then I should be able to take a day off without any shame or guilt— just as I would be able to do if I was physically unwell. By talking about mental health, we can help to make people realise that it is, in fact, equally as important as physical health, and is just as serious an issue.
Anxiety and depression are both momentous in terms of how they affect people: 5.9 people in 100 suffer from anxiety and 3.3 in 100 suffer from depression, with a horrendous number of 20.16 in 100 people experiencing suicidal thoughts. These are the most commonly talked about and recognised mental illnesses, but there are, of course, other mental illnesses that are hardly ever talked about that need to be talked about and understood by more people.
Nearly as many people suffer from PTSD as they do anxiety, with studies showing that 4.4 in 100 people are at one point affected by it. So why do we only tend to focus on depression and anxiety? Just as many people suffer from OCD, bipolar disorder, anorexia, BED, and so many more mental illnesses that to focus primarily on only two issues is ignorant of us. Ignoring other mental illnesses causes people with those issues to feel alienated within society. By talking about a larger variety of mental health issues we can stop people from feeling isolated. We can help more people. We can improve lives.
I know, reading this, you may not suffer from a mental illness, but I can bet a friend, family member, or classmate does. So show them that they aren’t alone. I don’t mean walk up to them and yell about their struggles, but don’t alienate them for struggling. Attempt to understand what they’re going through and try to help them.
Sometimes, people just need someone to talk to.
Don’t get me wrong— it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to be able to fix their life, but it’s good to know someone is there who loves and supports you while you learn to fix it for yourself. Everyone needs someone to believe in you. Quite simply: it’s encouraging to know there is someone who cares and who listens.
I always thought there was strength in staying silent. But there’s not. Yes, it’s scary to put your thoughts out there, but it’s also so, so much stronger to speak up.
So be strong.
Keep the talk about mental health alive.