'We ALL have Mental Health'

Mental Health

By Jessica Clark

We don’t need no education… Or perhaps we do…

When I was at school, there was no education about mental health. The 30-minute weekly PSHE sessions in our otherwise academic timetable grazed over discussions of bullying and harrowing videos of teenagers who had died from ecstasy overdoses (as well as scarring lists of STDs and the legendary condom-banana demonstration). Between 1993 – 2018, the number of deaths related to ecstasy use in England and Wales averaged 40 per year. Yet in 2018 alone, suicide (depression’s most drastic and tragic manifestation) accounted for 6,507 deaths in the UK. If we are to be warned about the harmfulness of recreational drug-taking, why are we taught nothing about managing the far more prevalent and insidious threat of mental illness, given its statistical likelihood to be experienced by 25% of the classroom across our lifetimes? All of us have mental health, which exists on a spectrum and can change with time. Sometimes our mental health is good, other times it needs some support, and if we talk about mental health when it’s good, it’s easier to talk about when its bad. Being aware of this is important, given the ease with which some people label mental health, and its challenges, as something that “happens to other people.”

My Experience

I did not consider the urgent need for more clarity, openness, and readily available information on mental health until my early twenties, when I sank into a depressive episode during my university year abroad. I had known brief bouts of melancholic states and debilitating anxiety previously but never to such an extreme level. I believe that better education about the symptoms and triggers of depression and how to access support during a crisis could have significantly aided my years-long journey involving an array of antidepressant medications, psychiatry, shamanic healing, and plenty of tears and sleepless nights. It has helped me colossally to understand clinical depression as a human experience undergone by many others, not just myself.

Of the many different approaches for treating depression and anxiety, no single school of thought contains a fix-all toolkit. Rather, different positive coping mechanisms and nuggets of wisdom can be gleaned from the range of treatments and literature available to evolve one’s own methods of recovery, a process to be handled with as much patience and self-love as possible. Creating space to talk with those around you about what you are going through, as well as contacting your GP, are commendable first steps. Realising you’re in need of support can be the hardest first step, but the key to unlocking the rest of your recovery. Physical health, a balanced lifestyle, and support from loved ones all go a long way in aiding the recovery path.

Mental Health Today

  • Mental health accounts for over half of all sickness-related work absences in the UK.
  • One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
  • According to a GOV UK survey, 7.3 million people (nearly 20% of the adult population) were prescribed antidepressants in the year 2017/18.
  • The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking support.
  • Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. 84 men a week die by suicide, which is the equivalent of 1 every 2 hours.
  • Suicide is the biggest killer of pregnant women and mothers with children under 1.

Stigma and Misconceptions

Stigma is a sense of shame, social disgrace and personal culpability associated with mental health problems. It is something ingrained within our cultural beliefs and societal norms, and many sufferers continue to face stigma in spite of campaigns to promote better awareness. Stigma does not affect all equally: for example, men face more stigma than women when talking openly about mental health, due to stereotypical notions of masculinity. Prolific writers, activists and organisations continue to bring mental health conversation into the mainstream to eradicate stigma and ensure that nobody has to suffer in silence. A sense of stigma can prevent people from accessing, what would otherwise be a positive recovery process.

Some misconceptions about depression and anxiety, the most common mental illnesses in the UK, include:

  • That they have to be “about” a specific occurrence in one’s life. Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at any point in their lives.
  • That they are equivalent to regular emotional experiences of sadness and worry.
  • That they are not that serious. What have you got to be sad about?
  • That they are experienced in the same way by all sufferers.
  • That wealth, status, career or personal relationships can make one immune. One of the great paradoxes of depression and anxiety is that they can spring up even when somebody has lots of objectively positive or desirable things in their life.
  • That people going through them always understand why they feel the way they do.
  • That these health problems are purely experienced psychologically.

If You are Suffering

The websites Mind UK,  Rethink Mental Illness and Young Minds contain practical information and advice on mental health matters. Helplines Samaritans (phone: 116 123) and Shout (text: 85258) are open 24/7 with supportive volunteers to offer personal support. The app Hub of Hope provides instant access to local support services. In an emergency, you can call 111 (NHS) or find a local mental health helpline by inputting your address here.

How Can I Support a Loved One?

The pillars of good mental health – a healthy diet, sufficient rest, exercise and meaningful activities in one’s day – can be difficult to maintain during a depressive episode. Checking in that your loved one is staying well-nourished and connected to other people (even if in small ways) will be of help to them, though they may find it hard to do these things.

Just hearing a friendly voice on the phone, or in person, can help others to feel less alone. It is worth checking in with your network regularly, as it may not be obvious who is struggling at any given moment. If you can find something to laugh about, all the better! It may be useful to talk through specific areas of their life that could be aggravating their condition, such as a stressful job or relationship problems, and brainstorm practical ways of alleviating excessive pressure. Remember, asking people how they are, and normalising talking about mental health when it is good, makes it easier to talk about when it is bad, especially for those people who may let stigma prevent them from seeking the support they need. Be prepared to listen, and try not to fix someone’s problems, or take their mental health issue personally; it may be more valuable to lend your ear as a good listener, while signposting further help. Sufferers of poor mental health are regularly encouraged to talk: but if someone asked you for help would you know what to do? The Hub of Hope is an excellent resource – you can download it as an app – which pinpoints you towards local providers and emergency support based on your current location.

Getting together to engage in a low-energy activity, like watching a film or having a walk, can be beneficial. Films, books, plays and music can all generate positive sources of distraction from mental distress.

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