October 10th, 2011

Stigma starts at home - World Mental Health Day

Today is world mental health day, lots of charities are doing lots of different things to raise awareness about their campaigns and take it as an opportunity to publicise the work they do and pass on their important message at the same time.

The fact is, we can campaign all we like, but if people’s attitudes are not open to change, it will make little difference. The way that so many people conceptualise mental illness and the way they talk about it instantly makes so many of us afraid to talk openly about the issues we face.

Let’s take twitter yesterday when someone merely posted “Louis Walsh must be mentally ill” for letting someone through, as harmless as a comment like that is, it shows the mentality and the way people view mental illness. That is just one example, I think I could find at least one example every day, of someone using it as a way to insult someone, belittle someone or used as some kind of joke.

It is used to describe bad decisions, to describe someone voicing their opinion and even as a show of criminality “oh they must have been mad to do that”. It is spoken about using many a derogatory term, played down or seen as attention seeking when the fact is, mental illnesses are like any other illness, just because you can’t see them, or they have few physical symptoms they are there and they are real.

It’s no wonder we still see it as a taboo, something we can’t talk about, if we throw around the term as we do now. Can you think about a time where you have used it in a derogatory manner? At the same time can you think of someone you know that has a mental health problem?

If you can’t think of someone, I bet they are still there, but they just haven’t spoken out. Most of us know the figure now, 1 in 4 people, that is how many will suffer from some kind of mental health condition in their life time. Be it depression, bi polar, schizophrenia, eating disorders, personality disorders and the many more that exist I bet you will know at least one person with one of them.

That doesn’t mean they are stupid, criminals, lunatics or any other word or stigma that has been attached to mental health over the years. It simply means they have difficulties, like we all have from time to time and with that they need help, someone to talk to and they need to not be afraid of talking openly about these issues and admitting they need help. Without this feeling of safety so many have gone through years of struggling, before admitting they need help. In my case I never admitted I needed help, until it was forced upon me.

It shouldn’t have to be this hard for anyone, we can talk about most other illnesses very openly with certain people, but the progress in mental health has been slow. My thoughts today turned to what we can do as individuals, while it is all well and good that there are fantastic campaigns out there providing the platforms from which these discussions can take place I also think we all need to be responsible as individuals, to be accommodating, tolerant and understanding of people in general, regardless of someone’s mental health.

So as it is world mental health day I wanted to see how much just a few people can achieve, why not just think about what you say and how you say it, but yourself in someone else’s shoes. How would you feel walking down the street if you had a mental health problem and hearing the words “nutter, looney, schizo, weirdo” while you are trying to deal with what could well feel like the lowest point of your life.

Why not see today as a day for tolerance and caring for others and make it day 1 in a personal commitment to stop the stigma.