There are so many things we learn when we’re younger.
We learn how to talk, how to colour in the lines and how to ride a bike. We learn the difference between a curly ‘C’ and a kicking ‘K’. We learn why we shouldn’t get the toast of out the toaster with a metal knife (if you didn’t learn this, don’t do it).
As we get older we learn about love and relationships, and explore the world a little more. We learn about the importance of money management and the importance of eating our five a day.
However, one thing many of us don’t learn about 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 in a respectful manner, or how to support our friends or family in their experiences.
So many people I speak to aren’t aware that every single one of us has mental health, just as we all have physical health.
I think if we were to do a survey regarding illness, it would be straightforward to name a wide range of common physical illnesses. In TV adverts we see a handful of products available to buy to alleviate physical illness symptoms.
Yet if I asked you to name a list of common mental illnesses, more people would probably struggle, and herein lies the problem. If we don’t educate then we will never rid these stigmatising notions, stereotypical views and common misconceptions. It is scary to think that a part of our body we all need to nourish, many ignore.
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 are a 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 won’t 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 won’t help, get out more’
I do believe the majority of these views could be changed with some education. What are people expecting when they say I don’t look like somebody that has a mental illness? Somebody with their head clutched in their hands? Hair unbrushed and rocking in the corner?
These outdated ideas are only changed when we talk. When approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience 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 can give older generations a new way of thinking.
When I was growing up, if I had heard others talking about 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. They would have known 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 that’s what we are.
Just because you may experience mental health problems does not make you strange or abnormal, it makes you human. 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.
Growing up, we may not have 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 is. For anyone hiding their experiences for fear of being alone, the best lesson I have learnt is that we’re not.
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, it’s okay to talk.