Let’s talk about crying for no reason in the middle of the day. Let’s talk about going to bed at 8pm to try and sleep through the empty feelings. Let’s talk about making up a story just so you have an excuse to text a friend when you feel low because you can’t just say I’m sad. Let’s talk about that black raincloud that you just can’t shake.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week – the one week every year that we are encouraged to talk about these things. But 7 days just isn’t enough, not by a long shot.
Nearly two-thirds of people have admitted to having some sort of mental health problem, yet still it’s such a taboo subject. You can’t just ask someone how their mental health is, the way you’d ask about a cold. You can’t bring your own mental health up in the middle of a conversation, as though you’re discussing a sprained ankle. For many people, myself included, it’s just not a topic that can be approached.
I don’t talk about my brain and all the ways it lets me down much at all. In fact, I have exactly two friends that know there’s anything wrong, and they don’t know the extent of it. But they are friends who suffer with mental health problems too, which makes it easier. Would I feel as comfortable talking to a friend who didn’t have it? Probably not. I’d be worried they wouldn’t understand, that they wouldn’t know how to behave around me. In all likelihood, a lot more of my friends and family have mental health issues than I am aware of. Two-thirds is an incredibly high statistic, and I’m fairly certain more people close to me must be included in that. But, like myself, they won’t – or can’t – talk about it.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’, which is important. Are you simply surviving your mental health, or are you thriving? For some, surviving is a huge step that should be commended. But that isn’t the way it should stay. Just 13% of people would say they have a good level of mental health. That’s 87% of people simply surviving their mental health – or worse. That statistic is disturbingly low. How can such a small amount of people feel happy in their own minds? How can this not be a bigger issue that we are fighting to overcome?
Mental health is pushed to the back burner, because it isn’t seen as important. If you break your leg, that’s a problem. If you have cancer, that’s a problem. If your mind goes dark and you feel completely empty inside, that doesn’t matter. You are still expected to function as normal. Even on your worst days, even when you feel at your lowest, you’re still supposed to carry on.
We have been conditioned to believe that mental health doesn’t matter, that we need to simply ‘man up’ – thank Piers Morgan for that one – and get on with things. But that, of course, is ridiculous. How do you ‘man up’ when your brain is trying to destroy you from the inside? How you do get on with things when even getting out of bed seems like the hardest task in the world?
Theresa May has promised to change the Mental Health Act if Tories win the election next month, which sadly they probably will. While I don’t agree with anything the Tories stand for, this does seem to be one thing she actually cares about that I can get on board with. Mental health is an overwhelmingly common problem for so many people, and it’s time that something changed.
We need to make it clear that it isn’t a sign of weakness to admit that you are struggling or that you need help. We need to stop the stigma around mental health and make it more of an easier topic to discuss. We need to educate children in the ways their minds can be against them, and inform them of what they can do when they feel low. We need to stop another generation growing up feeling scared and alone, and feeling as though they are the only ones going through this. We need to make it clear that mental health problems are common and completely natural, and that they can be overcome with the right help and support.
Speaking about mental health is just the first step, but it’s such an important one.