There are so many things we learn when we’re younger. We learn how to talk, how to colour in the lines. We learn the difference between a curly ‘C’ and a kicking ‘K’. We learn how to wash, how to ride a bike, how to understand our bodies. We learn how to count, how to recognise different colours, what foods we like. We learn why we shouldn’t answer our parents back, why we shouldn’t get the toast of out the toaster with a metal knife when it’s stuck (if you didn’t learn this don’t do it).
As we get older we learn about love, about sexuality. We learn about relationships and explore the world a little more. We learn about the importance of money management, the importance of eating our five a day and I’m not saying we all learn these things in great detail but we are shown at least the basics of these things during our development, aren’t we?
One thing many of us don’t learn about however is mental health. Unless you’ve experienced struggles with your mental health, many of us aren’t taught from a young age how to look after it. Many of us aren’t taught how to discuss mental health, how to support our friends or family in their experiences and it seems many are not taught how to discuss mental illness in a respectful manner.
So many people I speak to aren’t aware that every single one of us has a mental health, just as we all have a physical health. In addition, when we discuss physical health there are so many sub categories, we’re all aware of different physical illnesses, in the TV adverts we see a handful of products available to buy to alleviate physical illness symptoms. When it comes to mental health however, it’s not so apparent and its scary to think that a part of our body we all need to nourish, many ignore.
Lets be honest, I think if we were to do a survey regarding illness, it would be straightforward to name a wide range of common physical illnesses, maybe not in-depth and there will be so many illnesses unknown, but we could do it. I was taught in school about a wide range of physical illness, yet if I asked you to name a list of common mental illness, more people would probably struggle and here in lies the problem. If we don’t educate then we will never rid these stigmatising notions, these stereotypical views and these common misconceptions. Mental illness is a broad term because it covers a whole range of illnesses, many of which are still deemed taboo. This has to change.
When I think back to my experience of stigma and negativity towards my health, I honestly have to say the majority of views come from a lack of understanding. There have been of course the handful of people who are just rude, small-minded and mean but on the whole I believe that stigmatising views derive from a lack of knowledge. The more people could understand, the less they would fear and I’d like to think the more they would support. Some comments I’ve had in the past include;
- ‘You don’t look depressed to me’
- ‘You’re too pretty to be psycho’
- ‘Don’t tell anyone about those weird things you do, you wont be able to get a job or a boyfriend’
- ‘What has somebody your age got to be depressed about’
- ‘You need to toughen up, in my day we had to’
- ‘Not another one on this attention-seeking mental health hype’
- ‘Tablets wont help, get out more’
- ‘Oh, shes on death mode again’
- ‘Shes crazy, be careful of her’
That whole list is just ignorance but I do believe the majority of these views could be changed with some education, when people say I don’t look like somebody that has a mental illness what are they expecting, somebody with their head clutched in their hands? Hair unbrushed and rocking in the corner? These outdated ideas are only changed when we talk and with statistics like approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing mental health problems, I firmly believe we owe it to all generations to have this discussion now. The more we discuss these things, the less we reinforce these damaging views to younger generations and the more we give older generations a new way of thinking.
I believe that as I was growing up, if I had heard others utter anything that resembled the struggles I was experiencing then I would have opened up much sooner. I believe my friends would have been more supportive and understanding, less mockery of ‘death mode’ and more knowledge that my experiences weren’t rare or dangerous but just symptoms of an illness. I have recently been diagnosed with OCD and PTSD and I found myself confused and scared. I believe that by talking openly about my experiences, I can help others feel less alone and a whole lot more normal – because thats what we are.
Just because you may experience mental health problems does not make you strange or abnormal, it makes you human and believe me there are more people than you think that share these experiences. I may get things wrong sometimes, may not use the correct terms for things but what I can offer is honesty and a promise that you are not alone in how you feel.
So growing up, we may not of learnt much about mental health problems amidst our education of nouns and verbs but education doesn’t end at childhood, I’m starting to learn about my new diagnoses, about the importance of looking after my mental health and just how common mental illness actually is. We’re all sharing this scary road of life, learning lessons all the time and believe me, for anyone hiding their experiences for fear of being alone, the best lesson I learnt is that WE’RE NOT. I feel empowered by accepting the fact that I have so much to offer, in the strength I have found and in the ability to normalise my symptoms and experiences. The brain is complex, clever and often confusing but no matter how alone your thoughts make you feel, there is a big wide world out there with so many others that understand. Remember its okay to talk.