Newsflash: having a hard life is not a mental health illness. Coming out as gay? Losing a loved one? A breakup? Redundancy? Illness? Nope, they’re not mental health illnesses either. Sure, they may trigger or exacerbate an illness, but they’re not the illness themselves.
Life, sometimes, just sucks; but that doesn’t mean you’re one of the unlucky minority who suffer with their mental health. Only 1% of the population has OCD; around 10% have depression or anxiety. 100%, however, experience sadness, despair, hopelessness, fear and every other natural emotion. There is a difference.
As someone who has suffered with a variety of mental health conditions and has been writing and campaigning around mental health way before the current ‘trend’, I’m a little uneasy. Of course, I want mental health to be less taboo; I want to live in a world where nobody has to suffer in silence or commit suicide because they cannot cope with their demons alone; I want everybody to be open about their mental health and unembarrassed by what is nothing but a predisposition.
What I don’t want, however, is for mental health to become ‘cool’ – because it isn’t. It’s serious. We’re balancing a fine line here: I want someone to be able to feel free to ‘come out’ as suffering from clinical depression, but what I don’t want is for them to be laughed off because ‘oh everyone has depression now, dahling’. Trust me, there’s nothing trendy about living with a mental health illness.
So, how do you make something less taboo, but in an authentic way? How do you create real and meaningful change? How do you encourage silent sufferers to speak out, without convincing the rest of the population they’re depressed too?
The answer: not how we’re currently doing it. In a world where antidepressants are thrown out like sweets, it’s worrying to see such a light-hearted approach to mental health awareness. Personally, I think irresponsible mass media coverage is the absolute worst way to raise awareness of what is currently causing chaos in the lives of millions of people around the globe.
Take a newspaper article that focuses not on the detail of mental health itself, but the emotional drama in yet another celebrity’s life that automatically makes them ‘depressed’. Or the TV programme that skips past what OCD actually is, but instead shows you the cliche shots of someone washing their hands repeatedly. Mental health will become cool, because it’s the media that makes it cool. They have to, right? They have to gloss over the details and make it entertaining, because who would read or watch it otherwise? They have to make it all about famous faces because nobody wants to read about plain old Janet and her crippling anxiety, do they? Mass media is nothing but a quick fix.
What we need is real and genuine change. When we talk about mental health awareness, it should be done in a serious way. Schools should have visiting therapists and mental health should be built into the curriculum; every business in the land should want to, let alone be forced to, provide their staff with workshops on managing stress before it triggers something darker within. None of this is quick, easy or entertaining – but it’s what’s needed.
Most importantly, everything in this space should be directed by those with real experience of mental health themselves. I happen to be currently watching ‘No End in Sight‘, a great documentary about the failures of the Iraq war. Perhaps the biggest? Every politician involved in the decision-making had zero military experience. Of course, they had advisors who’d all served in various wars. The problem? The politicians didn’t listen. Repeatedly they didn’t listen to calls, direct from the experts, for more soldiers to police a post-war Iraq. Why? Because it simply didn’t suit their agenda; it wasn’t good politics to tell the world we’d be sending yet more troops, despite it being the most safe and effective thing to do at the time. Those failures still have a huge impact on the world today; let’s not make the same mistakes here.
Illnesses are never normal. That’s why they’re illnesses. That’s why we have health systems: to treat them. Mental illnesses are no different, so why should they be normalised? Let’s not trivialise devastating illness until the entire population is convinced they’re suffering. We’re not meant to be creating yet more sufferers!
Let’s be open. Let’s be real. Let’s create the change we needed in our darkest hour. #WhatNow? is the latest Mental Movement campaign for us all to share our ideas on how we can make a change that’s lasting; a change that’s credible, direct from the hearts and minds of a strong community that just knows mental health. That’s right, I mean you!