October 10 marks World Mental Health Day and this year’s focus is on young people. As someone who was diagnosed at 16 and struggles with mental health problems in my daily life, both with anxiety and depression, I welcome this news and firmly believe youth mental health needs more focus and attention in the media and public eye.
There’s still an attitude amongst many that people can be too young to experience mental health problems, and struggles are frivolously labelled as “phases” that people will grow out of in due course. I have been told by some that my mental illness is not serious, therefore it is clear that stigma remains amongst some people. No matter what your age you can suffer with a mental health problem and no struggle should be seen as invalid on the basis of age.
From my own experience, I only realised I was struggling when my mum picked up on it and I really wish the education was there. Throughout school we had countless assemblies and talks around drugs, alcohol, internet safety and sex education, however absolutely nothing around mental health. The chances are many students, like me, were and are struggling without even knowing and not getting the help they need. Only now because I am aware of my condition do I understand how it affects me and how to cope.
Mental illness affects my life on a daily basis and particularly the decisions I make. My anxiety means I struggle to go out, meet new people and subsequently form friendships with people. This is turn makes me more isolated and continues that vicious cycle of feeling anxious and depressed. While now I am more open, so many people suffer in silence when struggling with a mental illness and I want to use my experiences to raise awareness and encourage those people to speak out themselves. Nobody should be ashamed to have a mental health problem!
If youngsters are given no information about mental health, we simply cannot expect them to take mental health seriously or know when themselves or someone else is struggling. My school also followed the same trend: there were no lessons, assemblies or even conversations about mental health. It’s no surprise that the people who were open about their struggles were “frowned upon” and discriminated against for talking about their emotions. Schools, teachers and parents should make sure that young people are talking about mental health, and aware of it, from an early stage.
With the year’s focus on young people, I am hoping to set-up a stall in a local college and use an interactive activity to engage with students and staff around the campus. My plan is to gather a number of Time to Change resources, including tip cards, posters and banner and start conversations that way. Let’s use this year’s World Mental Health Day as the springboard for increasing conversation around mental health and making it easier for young people.