Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK (this year’s theme being Body Image), and is also the beginning of the third week of Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. It is also Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month and Stress Awareness Week, that’s a lot of awareness! Click here to learn more about BPD. This post is about mental health in general and why it is so important to raise awareness.
TW: Suicide, self-harm, mental illness
Why is awareness so important?
One word: stigma. Ever since WWI and WWII soldiers were diagnosed with ‘shell shock’, mental health and psychology suddenly became relevant. 1949, four years post WWII, the US began celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month in the month of May. So, for something that has been a big deal for 70 years, it is quite disappointing that more and more people are dying by suicide and terms like ‘snowflake’ exist. In the past week I have learned about two suicides, both were strangers to me but were very close to mutual or personal friends. We have to believe within the clinical professional community that if somebody truly wishes to take their own life, we cannot always stop them. Therapists and doctors are not superheroes and we cannot prevent every tragedy. However, if the society we are all a part of could make it easier to open up about such thoughts, maybe we could prevent more.
I have a relatively high caseload; assessing 6 and treating 17 people a week. I treat 35 people at once, seeing clients every two weeks for around 3-4 months. Of these, I can safely say at least a third have joked about ‘being seen going to the mental people’ or have asked for sessions away from work hours so they don’t have to tell their manager. Many have even avoided coming to my organisation’s head office and asked to be seen in the community so that they aren’t spotted walking into a building with ‘mental health charity’ plastered on its windows.
People can have a chat in their GP surgery with their neighbours, so why is being open about seeking support for mental health still an embarrassing, or dare I say shameful, thing? Stigma. And we fight stigma with three things; the truth, positivity, and awareness.
Over a third of the general public think someone with a mental health problem is likely to be violent.
So what is the ‘truth’?
Let’s talk statistics first.
In England, 1 in 6 people will experience a mental health problem each week.
At the end of February 2019, NHS England reported:
Over a million adults were in contact with mental health services.
Of these, 15,000 adults were detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act.
Mental Health First Aid England tells us:
70-75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all.
Men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in Great Britain.
The truth is pretty simple; it is highly likely that someone you know, or even care about, has a mental health problem. Even simpler, they might not be accessing support because they fear judgment from others.
If a work colleague broke their leg, you (hopefully) wouldn’t hesitate to tell them to take time off to heal. So if someone can’t work because of their depression, why are we insisting they ‘suck it up’?
Time for a quiz!
Let’s see how much you know about mental health. Which are true and which are false?
- Schizophrenia is the same thing as Split Personality Disorder
- If somebody is really open about and frequently suggests they will attempt suicide, they won’t really do it
- Eating Disorders are all about looking slim and being attractive
- Personality Disorder is just an excuse for being manipulative and attention-seeking
- If you think you have a mental health problem, you don’t
- If you’re happy in the morning and sad in the evening, you probably have Bipolar
- OCD is when you have to organise your stationery by colour and your whole house is immaculate
- People who say they have anxiety and depression are just weak minded and need to snap out of it
None of the above are true. Unfortunately, they are all things I have heard countless times in day to day life. This all too common derogatory attitude of minimising and spreading myths about mental illness is why we need to raise awareness. So, I will be posting all week about various mental health difficulties from a number of perspectives to get this ball rolling!
If you are a mental health blogger and would like to collaborate, come and find me on social media or my Contact page. Likewise, if you have a mental health problem that you would be happy discussing, feel free to contact me too. Let’s show stigma the door.
This post mentioned sensitive topics, please use these links to access more information and support if you need to.