Statistics show that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. However, many more people have a problem with that fact. The stigma attached to mental health problems is pernicious and unwarranted, fuelling the general societal attitude of shame and blame towards those who are suffering. And in order for sufferers to rehabilitate themselves and avoid facing further adversity we are in desperate need of a drastic reformation of the way we consider, discuss and relate to mental health and well-being.
Despite the prevailing attitude of asperity towards mental health issues, for many this is only the result of blameless ignorance. It is nearly impossible to grasp a full understanding of the destructive powers behind mental illness unless one has had first-hand experience or been close to a friend or family member suffering. Recently I started a blog about my own experiences of mental health, and was overwhelmed by the response I received. Many people that I have known for years opened up to me to divulge their own struggles with depression and other mental health problems such as anxiety and eating disorders.
For me this also highlighted the crux of the difficulty concerning mental health problems, which is that more often than not they are covert and hidden- as by their nature they are illnesses of the mind- therefore leaving them undetectable to friends and family. These are also the people of paramount importance in terms of support. Without knowledge and understanding of the symptoms, causes and reality of mental health difficulties we cannot begin to build the foundation of support that is required for those needing to recover.
The human mind has the capacity to reach frightening depths of despair and depression, which takes away one’s ability to function on multiple levels- emotionally, socially and physically. If you have depression you may feel as though all your energy is being sucked out of you, that you don’t deserve to be in the world and that everything you do is pointless. In other words, life loses all purpose and meaning. Even doing simple everyday things such as walking to the shops, fixing meals or getting out of bed may feel onerous and draining.
Sufferers of depression often find coping strategies and ways of disguising the symptoms of their mental health disorders. For instance, during my own bouts of depression I would repeatedly cancel social invitations, saying it was due to work deadlines rather than admit the real reason which is that I was in a state of mental anguish and had lost all desire for social interaction.
The pain of the illness that is depression is excruciating and agonising, sometimes resulting in terrible outcomes such as self-harm and suicide. This is precisely why we need to start accepting the reality of mental health problems and discussing them. It is also why I urge those experiencing mental health difficulties to talk to someone about it and seek help. Taking the path to recovery is not easily done alone and nobody should have to feel that life is in any way hopeless. There are innumerable people out there who you may not realise are willing to help, but are just waiting for your call.
Help comes in many forms, whether that be messaging a friend on Facebook, talking to a family member, blogging, accessing the university counselling services or visiting your GP, who might suggest medication if appropriate. Although when you are depressed reaching out is a very unpalatable choice, it is also the essential first step to recovery. Let’s start to eliminate the stigma and create a new and remedial outlook on mental health.