2020 has been unexpected in a myriad of ways, from living through a pandemic, to seeing plans for travel, celebration, and simply meeting friends impacted in quick succession.
In saying that, it’s also been a time to adapt, to rethink how we communicate when isolation and lockdowns have changed the way we interact, live, and work, the strain of which has placed mental health awareness under a brighter light than ever before.
The pandemic's impact on our everyday living amplified the volume of conversations around mental health, people are recognising more than ever before just how important it is to destigmatise mental health issues, because this has been a challenging period for us all, no matter what we have, look like, or believe in.
We all have a mental health status, and that’s ok.
The above is what makes moments like World Mental Health day important to me, because it brings us all together to recognise that no matter where we are in the world, the colour of our skin, first language, or faith, we all experience life; we all feel, and sometimes those feelings can be difficult to name, understand, or seek help for.
Seeing a global community of faces, voices, and experiences come together to discuss the importance of normalising the presence of mental health issues in society, acts as a stark reminder that we are never truly alone.
We are all experiencing life's ups and downs simultaneously, technology has at times made us more distant, it’s now playing a vital role in uniting us.
World Mental Health Day reminds me of the strength in vulnerability, it can be tough or take a long time to speak up about how we feel or what we’ve been through, but it has ultimately been a freeing experience to be honest with myself, trusted family, and empathetic friends.
Mental Health For All signifies that we all have a mental health status, that even if we don’t personally have mental health issues, one in four people will have one at any time in their lives, and that person could be our father, best friend, sister, manager, or neighbour; it’s a reminder that mental health issues can impact absolutely anyone, and they are deserving of empathy, support, and respect.
I live with social anxiety, proudly these days but for a long time I’d felt ashamed when “friends” would tell me I was an embarrassment, socially inept, and “so awkward” because it made me feel terrible about myself. That stigma from their wording stuck with me for a long time, and made coping with the very social nature of university, work, and going out into the world for simple things like going to dinner, incredibly difficult.
To be treated like that had a really negative impact on how I saw myself, like I was broken, yet I couldn’t put how I felt into words, I didn’t know what anxiety was, let alone there was help for it, because it just wasn’t talked about.
Sometimes the way a person responds to the world could be a symptom of what they’re going through. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to have empathy, just be thoughtful about how your words could impact someone else; take a moment to pause, reflect on what you’re thinking about saying, and consider that you could be hurting someone, as that person might be the 1 in 4 you now hear about in the media.
Years on from that incident of being stigmatised by people I have moved on from, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in attitudes towards mental health issues; it’s talked about more, and recognised as something that can happen at any time in anyone's life, whether they’re a student or a member of parliament.
The way we talk about mental health has become so much more conversational, the language used can reach everyone, it’s not strictly clinical terminology that can only be understood by mental health professionals anymore. It’s opened up the door for people to think about how they’ve been feeling, allowing them to understand what they’re going through and the help out there, and that they deserve support.
A greater emphasis on mental health in black and ethnic minority communities is still needed.
Although progress has been made, with lived experiences from black and ethnic minority individuals being documented and shared, I believe it’d be even more impactful to see more representation becoming the norm, and seeing an emphasis on LBGTQ+ and faith mental health within black and ethnic communities also documented and shared.
Mental health stigma and discrimination is now being called out in all its subtleties, from highlighting the fact that ‘OCD’ is not a verb, or that a person with a mental health condition like bipolar isn’t an inherently dangerous individual.
Society as a whole is learning to understand that people with mental health conditions are all around us, working, socialising, and leading full lives, because they aren’t defined by their diagnosis, and therefore shouldn’t be demonised by it either.
For all the progress we've made, lots of experiences have been left out of the 'mental health conversation'. Too often, mental health stigma continues to leave people feeling isolated and ashamed. That's why we're calling on everyone to open up to mental health this World Mental Health Day, and listen to people's experiences.