Imagine you have broken your foot. You know that something is definitely wrong; when you fell you literally heard your bone crack, your foot has swollen to 3 times its original size, and what’s more you can’t put weight on it or bend it past a certain point without excruciating pain. You tell your friends and family what has happened, insistent that you need to seek medical attention. Yet instead of supporting you and taking you to the doctor immediately, they stare at you as if you are the issue, and tell you to stop making a mountain out of a molehill.
Your pain is “all in your head”. You don’t need medical help, there’s not even anything properly wrong with you. Taking medication to help alleviate the pain is ridiculous and, quite frankly, shameful. You need to stop complaining and start seeing the “good things in life”, as that will make you better.
Mental illness, and, in fact, the notion of talking about mental health, is highly stigmatised by society as a whole. You are seen as weak if you have depression, you are portrayed in mainstream media as a danger to society if you have schizophrenia, and books are even written about how unlovable and manipulative you are if you have a personality disorder. Self-care is viewed as wishy-washy and unnecessary, instead of as a vital way to look after your own wellbeing.
It means that you are less likely to reach out for help, be that telling someone how you are feeling or going to the doctor to seek medical treatment, thus putting you at greater risk. It means that you struggle in silence, feeling weak and like you should be able to pick yourself up, which invariably leads to you feeling even worse in yourself. It means that more and more of us are waiting longer to reach out for help, and thus are having to deal with more complex problems and deep-rooted behaviours, which require a more intensive intervention. These are illnesses and conditions that are life-threatening and should not be swept under the carpet simply because they do not manifest themselves in the same way that physical health problems do.
This is why visibility about mental health is important. When you tell your story, when schools run PSHE lessons on how to look after your wellbeing, when popular figures reveal their own mental health difficulties, then the atmosphere of silence is broken, and those in the dark about mental health start to be educated and understand that it isn’t “all in your head”. Collectively, we begin to understand that we all have mental health, much like we all have physical health, and that there is no shame in having poor mental health. Your voice begins to normalise having a mental illness, stripping away the taboo. Wellbeing becomes something to prioritise in the workplace and in schools, resulting in earlier intervention for those struggling, and a general atmosphere of openness and tolerance that can transform the education system and the working world.
Stories can challenge even the most deeply rooted shame in your own struggles with poor mental health. In the wealth of experiences shared, you can find some which resonate with you, breaking through the fog of lies telling you that you are alone and that life will never get better than this. You can find inspiration in someone else’s tale of recovery, motivating you to keep going despite the voice in your head telling you to give up.
If you have experienced poor mental health, telling your friends or colleagues about what you have gone through can begin to transform attitudes, and reflect that mental health is not alien, but something that we all have. Even sharing a blog post about someone else’s experience with their mental health widens the reach of their story and spreads the word.
Another way to break through the stigma is to become involved in mental health education. Come along to events such as the Freedom of Mind festival, campaigner conferences run by mental health charities, or a panel on mental health and wellbeing run by a local campaigning group. You could even host your own “Positivi-tea” in your workplace or community.
If you are at school, you could talk to your Head of Year about having an assembly on mental health and wellbeing, especially around exam time, or run a lunchtime crafternoon to de-stress and self-care. If you are at University, you could get involved in the Mental Health Society or Wellbeing Network, and if they don’t exist at your University you could think about setting them up!
On a more national level, there are charities such as Beat, Mind and Time to Change working to challenge stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. Hosting a fundraiser would raise valuable funds for their work, and if you want to get more involved you could consider applying to be a mental health activist with these groups. If an important bill pertaining to mental health or healthcare is being debated in Parliament, you could email or write to your MP urging them to vote and support their constituents with mental illnesses.
These are just a few suggestions of what you can do; there is a wide range of ways to stand up against stigma and break the silence surrounding mental health. But through your actions, big or small, you can play a part in transforming society’s attitude towards mental health. So keep talking and starting those conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Share your stories and listen to those that others around you tell. Keep educating yourself about issues pertaining to mental health, including the experiences of different communities and liberation groups. Visibility and open discussion is how we challenge the stigma and silence surrounding mental health, and it starts with you.
If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.