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Mental Health Awareness Week 2019: My Thoughts

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I could hardly let it pass without documenting it with a blog post, could I!

This post doesn’t have a specific topic, just my thoughts and feelings about how society deals with mental health and the discussion around it.

Mental health has gone from a societal taboo that must be avoided at all costs, to a discussion that’s now encouraged.

Somewhere in there is a topic that needs to be addressed.

There’s so much information available now, that it can be quite a daunting conversation to take part in.

I’ve noticed that there can be a weird hierarchy about it that makes it seem as though, unless you’re a manic depressive, your opinion is unimportant.

This can discourage people from entering a discussion.

All discussion should be encouraged, whether that’s seeking help or just general curiosity. It’s important that people are made to feel comfortable about asking questions and aren’t made to feel intimidated.

Nothing about mental health should be exclusive. You don’t need to have a mental health disorder/illness/problems to talk about it. They’re not a qualification.

That being said though, I also think that with mental health becoming mainstream, which is absolutely a good thing, the message can be miscommunication.

Which suggests to me that there needs to be more clarity and consistency when dealing with and talking about mental health and all that entails. Distinctions have to be made.

We can start by looking at the language that we use.

Self diagnosis. Criticising people for it is a tricky thing because people’s feelings and state of mind are legitimate and shouldn’t be dismissed.

At the same time, I feel like if there was less of it, there would be less misunderstanding. Again, going back to the point about distinctions - if they were clearer, people’s understanding would improve.

Mental health illnesses and disorders have been generalised to the point that they’re used as sentence fillers. How many times have you heard, or even said yourself, something like “oh i’m so bipolar today” when talking about mood swings?

It seems harmless but one of the most common misconceptions about bipolar is that it’s solely about mood swings. I can almost feel the eye rolls coming from bipolar people as they read this.  

They’re not adjectives. They are an illnesses that affect people. There is a clear distinction between unstable mood and bipolar.

This ambiguity can be blamed for people shying away and avoiding raising their concerns.

Some people are scared to recognise certain qualities in fear that they’ll be labelled with something they don’t understand. Others need that label in order to validate what they’re feeling so they prescribe it to themselves.

We live in a society where if someone breaks a bone, we all run to the rescue. But when someone suffers a mental break, we avoid or completely ignore it. That’s what needs to change.

I’m not saying I can take that ambiguity away because I think there will always be an element of there, but I would like to give someone the reassurance that simply feeling something, whether that be anxiety, happiness, anger, whatever; that in itself is entirely valid. You don’t need a label.

If you are struggling to cope with the pressures of everyday life, or feel like you’ve lost your way, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ill.

We live in a world where extreme pressures come from the most unlikely places and where inferiority is encouraged. Feeling like it’s all too much is now part of being human.

That doesn’t make it easy though. There are so many things you can do to seek help when you’re feeling like this. I genuinely believe that everyone can go through stages of being unable to cope. It can be terrifying but you’re not alone.

For people whose misunderstanding comes from their inability to relate to it, I find it helps to liken it to something they can relate to.

For example, we’ve all fallen victim to the common cold at some point. The constant sniffling, sore throat, blocked…. everything and the never ending runny nose. Horrible.

However, having a cold does not mean that you have flu. Flu is a whole new level of ill, that even a ‘bad cold’ doesn’t come close. If you’re someone who has ever had flu, you’ll understand why people can die from it. Dramatic but true.

It’s the same as comparing a headache to a migraine. There’s a clear distinction there. They’re just not the same.

My point is, feeling sad does not mean that you have depression. Being depressed doesn’t necessarily mean that you have depression. Depression is so much more than sadness.

Mental illnesses, like physical illnesses, require medication. They affect every aspect of life for some people. You wouldn't treat a broken ankle the same as a sprained one.

If we treated our mental health with the same principal, we would be giving it the kindness it deserves.

You can go through a time of particular strain, struggle to cope with literally anything, but with the right support you can take the steps (see what I did there) required to getting better. You might not go back to exactly the way you were, you might need to take certain precautions and avoid certain things. Just like a sprained ankle.

Depression, as I see it, is a result of your body not producing enough of one chemical and too much of others. There is a major flaw in your body’s communication that causes a breakdown.

Like a broken bone, the path to rehabilitation is a complicated one. Medication is often a case of trial and error, establishing the correct type and dosage is vital. And just like a broken bone needs a cast, someone struggling with depression needs to find the correct support for them in order to heal. But that crack is now part of the brain’s structure.

Recovery is another element that isn’t straight forward (as if it wasn’t complicated enough already). Like with a broken bone, no recovery is ever the same. Different people require different things in order to heal.

Recovery also implies something final. The ending of something. With mental health, it’s just not as simple as that.

Like with physical health, people go through ebbs and flows. It’s not a case of progressing from one place to another, it’s far more varied. As the wise man Ronan Keating once said “life is a roller coaster, you just gotta ride it”.  Don’t pretend like you didn’t just sing that.

Seriously though, whether it’s just your mood or a recovery from a bout of depression, the path isn’t always an upward straight. If you’re still reading this, then thank you and I hope you’ve found it useful.

Well, that’s quite enough seriousness for one post!

I hope this has made things clearer for some people. If not then I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say.

Here are my key points:

T A L K   A B O U T  I T - if you don’t understand something, ask. The conversation is not reserved for certain people. Mental health affect us all!

Learn the difference between what is an illness and what is not. Feeling anxious does not mean you have an anxiety disorder. There is a spectrum of emotions that we are all capable of feeling. You don’t have to be ‘ill’ for your mental health to matter.

Feeling anxious about the lead up to an event or having to walk into a room on your own is just as valid as having a panic attack for no apparent reason. Just because some people have depression doesn’t mean that the sadness that you feel is any less relevant.

Remember that.

Life can be bloody difficult, you shouldn’t feel guilty for letting yourself have a meltdown and eating everything you see. Sometimes that’s just the ticket you need to pull it back together. Just be nice. You never know what people are dealing with. ​

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