World Mental Health Day

TW: Mental health issues, suicide, self-harm, substance abuse.

It’s World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day takes place on October 10th every year, ‘with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.’ (WHO, 2019)

I’m glad there are social media campaigns advocating mental health causes because the circulation and impact of these campaigns is widespread. The amount of people engaging with these events and sharing their experiences with mental health problems demonstrate that attitudes are shifting. I have two responses to this: 1) It’s about time. 2) We still have a long way to go.

It doesn’t matter what religious beliefs you ascribe to; what political party you support, what ethnicity you are, how old you are, what sexual orientation you prefer, what gender you are or what income you earn. Despite our differences, from one individual to another, one thing that ought to unite us is mental health, for we all have minds and are all therefore susceptible to periods of mental illness, whether brought on by stress, genetic predisposition or trauma.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. That’s why it’s so important that we cultivate an open dialogue about mental health. Be that as it may, there are barriers for those who suffer with mental illness, factors which affect an individual’s ability to speak out openly and seek help. Effective treatment and support for mental illness is hard to access due to the prevalence of stigmatisation, ignorance and services/resources that are crippled financially, due to government cuts.

How do we address this? We look upon the statistics and we inform ourselves, then educate others to abolish ignorance and misunderstanding. We sign petitions and we fight for more mental health initiatives in schools and workplaces, in an effort to normalise mental health the same way we normalise debilitating physical ailments such as broken bones. We support our peers, who may or may not be struggling openly, by being conscientious and approachable. We invite dialogue instead of closing it down. We embrace our vulnerabilities and take the time to deal with our mental health, as opposed to neglecting our right to self-care. We accept the notion that mental illness is not a weakness, nor something to be ashamed of.

The dangers of not speaking up are serious. Struggling to cope, individuals may turn to substance abuse, self-harm, isolation and in many cases, suicide.

As a person who has experienced the unexpected bereavement of a family member due to suicide, as well as my own history of depression-fuelled suicidal thoughts, I can vouch for the devastation that loss causes. It’s frustrating because you can’t help but harbour regrets and question whether there were signs that ought to have been spotted. It’s frustrating because if we had known at the time, we could have had that one conversation and that could have been enough to stop anything from happening at all. It’s frustrating because, despite that experience, people still cling to secrecy and bury their struggles below the surface, as though those struggles won’t bubble up and have some sort of negative consequence.

Seeing the impact on my family and all of my uncle’s friends, who queued up at the funeral to pay their respects, I realised that the way I was dealing with my own mental health had to change. The one thing I took away from the shock of that bereavement is that conversations are worth having, no matter how difficult they may seem. Since, I have lived by that philosophy and that’s one thing I’m consistently proud of. Being candid about my experiences allows me to access my support group, who have hauled my struggling body through many a crisis. Were it not for others and their strength, their faith and their vigilance, I would have succumbed to the darkest mental state, long ago. Speaking up has helped me accept, embrace and process the way I feel. Speaking up has made me visible to a large community of other people who also struggle in similar ways and this has allowed me to feel less alone. Speaking up gave me a chance of survival and meant that the events of the past were learned from.

I hope we all keep at it and find ways to make the world a bit kinder, one day at a time. It is also important to remember that World Mental Health Day is just a day, yet the overall quest to end mental health stigmatisation is 24/7, year-round. So let’s keep the conversations going, long after the hashtag and publicity this day brings dissipates.

As a final note, here are some things that have helped me along my mental health journey, particularly in the last year:

  • The Samaritans helpline and CBT/psychotherapy treatment.
  • Making an active effort to communicate when I’m struggling to people I care about.
  • Guided meditations (sleep or otherwise).
  • The Headspace app, for finding moments of calm.
  • Yoga and daily exercise. I love Alo Moves (app) and Yoga with Adrienne (YouTube).
  • Hugging loved ones tight at every given opportunity.
  • Expressing my gratitude, on the good days and the bad.
  • Trying not to compare my journey to other people’s journeys: we’re all on our own paths!
  • Perceiving mental self-care with the same importance that I do a healthy diet and doctor-ordained exercise regimens.
  • Keeping a daily journal, to monitor achievements (no matter how small they may seem) so that I can reflect at the end of the week at all of the positives. Also, my dream journal has really entertained/scared me recently (trust me, for SSRI’s it really is worth it).

Depression and anxiety makes for a roller-coaster ride of a life. I just want to take this opportunity to say a massive thanks to all of my family, who have supported me in ways I could never have imagined over the last few months. You’ve all taken the time to listen and to research and to be patient and to hug me and to drive me to appointments everywhere, I’m very grateful and I literally think about you all every morning, when I count my blessings. I also want to say thanks to the Ladies of Chancery Lane/Lockwood Massive and Tom who have collectively put up with me, through all the states I’ve been in. You lot are solid and I don’t know where I’d be without you.

Useful info links:

World Health Organisation’s Definition of World Mental Health Day

Suicide Prevention Objective 2019

Samaritans Site