There is a lot of talk and news coverage around mental health these days (or certainly more so than ever before) and we have undeniably come a long way in terms of offering help, support, and resources to those in need. However, mental health is still heavily stigmatised and we could all do a lot more to end the taboo…
Why It’s Time To End The Mental Health Taboo
From vaguely asking someone how they’re doing and hoping they’ll just say ‘I’m fine’ (because it would be inappropriate for them to reply anything else, right?) to being reluctant to talk about our own struggles, we are trained to feel shame, embarrassment and guilt about struggling with our mental health. So much so, that many of us are reluctant to reach out for help and can even convince ourselves that we don’t need or deserve it – but I’ll let you in on a secret: mental health affects us all.
Did you know that mental health is reported to be the primary driver of disability worldwide*?
We can all relate to feeling low, stressed or anxious. Whilst for most of us those feelings pass, they can grow into more serious problems. In fact, it has been reported that 1 in 6 adults experiences a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, every week.
As mental health is such a common disease, it begs the question: why are we so reluctant to talk about our mental health? The answer: stigma.
We’re All Affected By Stigma
I hate to break it to you, but even those of us who think that we aren’t affected by the stigma around mental health, are. Not convinced? Imagine this scenario: Your boss has invited you to be the keynote speaker at an important work do, but on the day of the event, you are too ill to attend. Would you rather cancel because you have a kidney stone or because you’re too depressed to get out of bed? I’m willing to bet that you’d choose option one, because, if we’re being honest, most of us are afraid of being judged for the second.
So How Do We Break The Stigma?
You see, the reason why we fear being judged for our mental health issues is that there is a lack of understanding and severe miseducation that surrounds mental health which affects our perception of sufferers.
Remembering That Mental Health Is Real
With no (or only secondary) physical symptoms, mental health has historically been much harder to understand and treat. It is such a broad umbrella term that covers everything from autism to dementia, and depression to OCD. In those cases, individuals often need long-term professional help and a treatment that is tailored to them.
However – and this is the important thing to remember – being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a disorder like the ones listed above. It means that you can make the most of your potential, comfortably cope with the ups and downs of life, and play a full part in your family, workplace, community, and among friends. Everyone has mental health and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look after it.
Looking Past Historical Bias
If you look back in history, mental disorders have often been explained away by supernatural forces and the devil. This has contributed to us associating mental health with being ‘mad’, ‘crazy’, ‘mentally insane’, as well as ‘dangerous’ and ‘threatening’.
How many articles do you read in the paper that refer to someone who has mental health issues as being ‘a danger to others’? We fear what we don’t understand, so my advice would be to educate yourself. When you actually look into it, those suffering from mental health problems are far more likely to hurt themselves than you. So, try to overcome the stereotype and not be too quick dismissively label someone as ‘crazy’ to explain away what you don’t understand. That’s how you become part of the problem.
Changing The Language We Use
All of the above has embedded itself into our culture and affected the language that we use when talking about mental health. I mean, have you ever thought about the way we discuss physical vs mental disease?
You’d describe someone fighting cancer as ‘brave’, ‘strong’ and ‘resilient’. We show them compassion and admire their courageous. When it comes to someone battling mental health issues, though, our instinct is not to be understanding and show sympathy, but to judge. We are inclined to label the individual as ‘weak’ or ‘lazy’ and get frustrated at (what we perceive as) their unwillingness to make themselves better. So, be cautious of the language you use and avoid using derogatory terms.
The sooner we realise that we are affected by stigma, the sooner we can all address it, learn to overcome it, openly talk about our mental health and help each other through the tough times.
How To Look After Your Mental Health
There are so many little things that you can do to look after your mental wellbeing. Whilst you can find the full advice and details on the mentalhealth.org website, here is a summary of some of the key ones:
1. Talk Openly
Whilst it may feel awkward at first, talking about a problem can help you to work through it, feel supported and less alone. Plus, it may open up a conversation and encourage others who have kept silent to open up too.
2. Stay Active
Exercising (and I don’t just mean hitting the gym, but walks in the park, gardening, housework, etc) releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. It can also help you to focus more, sleep better and boost your self-esteem.
3. Eat A Balanced Diet
No, I don’t mean never eat refined sugar or processed food again. I just mean eat a healthy mix of nutrients that keeps both your body and your mind healthy. Fruit, veg, nuts, dairy, carbs, getting it all in your diet – then throw in the occasional cake or biscuit because they taste great!
4. Drink Sensibly
Even if you haven’t experienced this in real life, you’ve no doubt seen someone in a film drinking to numb their pain or forget their fears and loneliness. Well, the effect is only temporary and certainly isn’t a long-term solution. To maintain a good mental health, try and stick to the recommended weekly allowance of 14 units.
5. Stay Connected
When we refuse to talk about our mental health, we effectively isolate ourselves from the people around us. Here’s the thing, though, humans are social beings and we need to feel included. Maintaining a good support system of friends and family is crucial to dealing with the stresses of daily life in a healthy way.
6. Ask For Help
When you start to get overwhelmed by situations or emotions, just ask for help. You can turn to friends and family, or look to professionals, charities, or helplines (more on that next time!) for assistance. When times get tough, you are not alone.
7. Take A Break
When you just can’t deal with a situation anymore, your instinct is always to just leave it and walk away. Well, as it turns out, that’s the right thing to do. A change of scenery or pace is good for your mental health. Taking a five-minute coffee break at work or going out for a short walk to escape a busy household can be very beneficial.
8. Do Something You’re Good At
The best way to beat stress is to enjoy yourself. If there’s something that you’re good at, chances are that you enjoy it, feel good whilst doing it (who doesn’t love achieving something?) and can fully throw yourself into it. Doing something you’re good at can be a great distraction and a huge self-esteem boost.
9. Learn To Love Who You Are
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself, you shouldn’t be doing it because you wish you were more like someone else. Instead, learn to accept the things that make you unique. Feeling good about yourself helps to boost your confidence, allows you to better connect with people, and can help you to better cope when life gets tough.
10. Care For Others
Who doesn’t love to feel needed? It makes us feel like we belong and can even bring us closer to the people around us. This could be looking after your friends, checking in on your family, or volunteering for a charity. Of course, you don’t want to feel like you’re carrying too much on your shoulders. It’s all about balance.
Those are just some of the ways you can look after your mental wellbeing. If things escalate, though, remember that there is professional help out there too.
Where To Find Help?
There are loads of great charities, online web chats and call centres to contact if and when you or someone you know is struggling. I’ll be sharing those with you in just a couple of weeks, so stay tuned for more details!
Since the start of 2020, we’ve been openly talking about issues that women face every day but aren’t always comfortable opening up about. Having addressed period poverty and period shame, as well as body image and body confidence, we’re now talking about all things mental health. You can find out more about why it is such a taboo subject here, or stay tuned to find out more about how you can be more mindful of your mental health.