mental health

Mental health beyond #Mentalhealthawaressweek

Warning: I will mention suicide. If you believe you are not in the right headspace to read about suicide, there are many more articles on my blog you can read today.

We have come to the last day of #Mentalhealthawaressweek and I want to take this time to write some personal reflections.

I’ve been looking at some statistics and I want to share here with you an overview of what I have learned and what I think.

In the UK…

As I shared in a previous post, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. Indulge me and think of 4 of your colleagues now: one of them will and has experienced anxiety, depression or some other mental health problem. Now think of your family, think of four of your relatives: it is very probable that one of them has or is experiencing a mental health problem. How does it feel to bring it so close to home? Maybe you are reading this and you’re experiencing mental health struggles: you are not alone.

The statistics also speak of 1 in 6 adults having a common mental health disorder, like, for example, like Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Depression and Anxiety.

Maybe it is scary to read such statistics, but I truly believe it is only because of our relationship, as a society, with mental health. We read on the news headlines not too dissimilar from ‘psycho kills thousands’ or ‘man with schizophrenia goes on a rampage’. We relegate ‘schizophrenics’ to the outer rims of society and we are not educated about what it actually is. Schizophrenia is a term invented by our society (and not even that long ago) and might not even be as accurate as we imagine: many in the past were ‘diagnosed’ because the fitted some arbitrary list of symptoms like ‘does not do what they’re told’. And don’t get me started on the strong link between the first diagnosis of schizophrenia and its link with pharmaceutical companies of the time.

It is more likely for someone with a mental health problem (like schizophrenia) to be attacked than the other way around.

Sadly, we are uncomfortable around ‘the Other’, people that are different from us, and we are scared they might taint us (some say it’s in our genes to push away ill people in case they infect us). We are scared, but fear is only linked to the unknown. Fear can be dispelled by knowing.

I strongly believe our relationship (again, as a society) needs to change towards mental health; not just around schizophrenia, but around depression, anxiety, stress: these are such common and natural responses to our environment that it seems crazy to me that we wouldn’t want a more holistic relationship with them.

In a lifetime…

Mental health is something that can change throughout our lifetimes.

Did you know that 70% of children and adolescents who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate care or interventions? Through decades of research, it is now crystal clear that good mental health starts in infancy. We know it from Attachment Theory and from Neuroscience that strong and safe bonds with caretakers develop their sense of self, their emotional resilience and their actual brain.

75% of mental health problems are established by the age of 24. That could be less than a quarter of one’s life for some people. There is so much that can be done, but it seems that our ideal of what childhood should be like, our crazy idea of innocence and perfection that we burden our kids with, prevents us from seeing the complexity and depth of life that is true to childhood.

Not only this, but mental health is also an issue of gender.
With women being more likely than men to have a common mental health disorder and men accounting for over three-quarters of death by suicide in the U.K., it seems like it is also an issue of inequality. Where is the support for men and women?

We still don’t fully care for post-natal depression: some people don’t believe it exists and there is still huge pressure on mothers to be ‘perfectly happy being mothers’ and ‘perfectly loving and caring’ – motherhood (and fatherhood) is actually one of the most stressful life events. Approximately 68% of women and 57% of men with mental health problems are parents. There is so much stigma around mental health and parenting (from society and from the family) that most parents will try to get through the struggle on their own and will not seek adequate help.

In the workplace too (although some companies are embracing more mental-health-friendly and open workplaces), 1 in 6.8 people experience mental health problems. And again, it is a gender issue: women in full-time employment are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men.

Mental health is also an issue of diversity: people who identify as LGBT+ are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and attempt suicide; common mental health issues (which includes depression and anxiety disorders) are more common in Black and Black British women than among other ethnic groups. Discrimination and racism are still ripe in Western society and it is good to be aware of these statistics: it is time that we address these discrepancies.

Finally, older people are often left out of the conversation around mental health. Maybe find themselves in care homes and (just like what we used to do with mental asylums) find themselves ‘outside’ of society. People who deemed ‘old’ (which can be as young as 50) suffer from discrimination, lack of participation in meaningful relationships and activities, physical health and poverty.

…so, in the end

It seems clear to me that we are still far from an all-inclusive concept of mental health. You cannot do anything about the things you do not know. What we can do is spread the knowledge, educate our friends and family. Only then can we see change. Knowledge is power. It is also our responsibility, I believe, to empower and be allies to those who less privilege.

I am a young white straight woman, and whilst I may not be able to be an ally to a young white straight man, I can be an ally to POC and the BAME community, to the elderly, and to the LGBQT+ community. Who can you be an ally to?

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