Like most young people, the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was scroll through my social media. Expecting to see the usual holiday snaps, fancy meal pics and #squadgoals which usually dominate my feed, I was instead pleasantly surprised to awaken to a flood of tweets, posts and articles promoting World Mental Health Day. I received messages from friends reminding me they loved me, countless people sharing words of comfort and hundreds of thousands of tweets in which people I have never met openly shared their stories with the world. I was amazed to see how far these discussions have progressed in the past year alone, as we continue to break down the barriers which have stopped people discussing mental health needs for so long, forcing so many to suffer in silence.
As someone who has never had first-hand experience of a mental health condition, I feel somewhat underqualified to write this blog post. But it is also vital to highlight that mental health doesn’t solely mean mental illness. Everyone has to look after their health, regardless of whether they have a chronic illness. In the same way, everyone must look after their mental health, even if they do not suffer from mental illness. As someone with a chronic illness, I understand the need for support during stressful and difficult times. Whilst diagnosis can be the most difficult time for some, often stress and worry in relation to illness can build up over long periods of time and support shouldn’t have an ‘expiry date’. When talking to young people with experience of mental health, a young person who supports a relative with mental illness said ‘[despite medication] she still has bad days, but the most important thing I do is to have patience because no one chooses to feel this way.’
In order to get a better understanding of mental illness, I talked today to several young people who had been affected directly by various mental health conditions. I asked them to share something they wished people understood about their conditions or any misconceptions they believe society has regarding them. One of the main ideas raised, was the fact that anyone can get a mental illness. Whilst circumstances may have some effect, a mental illness can form regardless. This can often lead to feelings of invalidation, and prevent non-sufferers from taking mental illness seriously, or believing those who do suffer.
Another important stigma which our members wanted to break down was those surrounding less common mental illnesses. Society is slowly becoming more comfortable talking about depression and anxiety, but some illnesses, such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder are still considered ‘dangerous’. This stigma can alienate those suffering from such illnesses, who need vital support but may be too afraid to talk about their conditions or needs.
A fear of many people suffering from mental illness, is the thought and judgement of those around them. One of the people I spoke to discussed her mum’s fear of losing her job or her friends when first coming to terms with her depression. This meant that she prolonged seeing a doctor, which could have potentially led to terrifying consequences. Many people are not fortunate enough to feel comfortable to ever find help, and it is only through conversation to destigmatise all mental illnesses that we can achieve this and ensure that no one feels scared, embarrassed or weak for discussing these issues.
Ultimately, mental illness, like all the illnesses we promote at RAiISE, is invisible, often leading to an invisible struggle. Research has found that 1/4 adults and 1/10 children suffer from mental illness at some point. Every one of us will know someone who is suffering and it is our job to ensure that the correct support is always there. The first step to doing this, and breaking down the stigma, is to simply talk. I hope that the conversations I woke up to this morning on World Mental Health Day will continue to happen throughout the year, so that no one must suffer in silence.