Thursday, 17 May 2018

Thoughts on Mental Health Awareness Week

It is currently Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. A week dedicated to talking about mental health, how we can do better, how the government can do better for us and just generally talking about these issues to help break down the stigma still attached to mental health.

There's plenty of arguments that surround awareness weeks.

"We should be raising awareness all the time!" - we are but having a specific week dedicated to the cause brings it to more people's attention. Not everyone follows the same people online so they may not see mental health conversation on their feeds. But seeing #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek trending on Twitter may make someone click on and get involved where they wouldn't previously have done.
Also people (including myself) see these dedicated days/weeks/months as a perfect opportunity to speak out, to ask for help, to talk about what needs to change.

I posted on this blog on Time To Talk Day in 2016 and that was the first time I talked publicly about the struggles I've been through and how I'm working on fixing them. It just felt like the perfect opportunity to write it down and put it in to the world. A day dedicated to telling your own story. A day when people are listening to these stories. A day where people without these struggles want to listen and learn. And I don't see how they can be a bad thing.
(you can read that post HERE.)

I try and post something during these dedicated mental health periods because people are more aware and want to listen and learn. Last year for Mental Health Awareness Week I did a little post about how I was currently feeling as I was going through a bit of bad brain time. I thought it was important to talk about that as some of my previous "mental health updates" had a lot of positives in regards to how I was feeling. But it is important to show that just because a person is taking medication and/or doing therapy they don't magically recover. For me depression is always there but sometimes it is more prevalent than others, and that's okay.

Another point I hear a lot is "we don't need more awareness, we need better services. Stop telling people to get help."
So I think we need to break this down...

With the amount of daily articles we read focused on mental health, I can see why the "we don't need more awareness" argument can be made. However, there are people who still don't understand mental health. There are people that still say "cheer up!" or "what can you be depressed about?" (not to me but I see that it happens).
So not everyone is aware of the severity of mental health issues, the awareness is still needed.
But we 100% do need better services. There needs to be more money put into mental health services. There needs to be more education into mental health issues, for everyone. We can all do better to support those that need us.
My main gripe is with "stop telling people to get help" which I have seen on Twitter this week. Saying it in that way sounds quite harsh but in reality I don't think this is what anyone is really intending. Yes, people share their own stories with the message to others being that they don't need to be afraid of asking for help and that support is there for them. But nobody is forcing anyone to do anything they aren't ready for.
In my own experience, a person struggling with mental health knows that there are options for getting help but it's intimidating and scary to take that first step and the more positive stories put out there, the more likely they are going to seek that help for themselves. Hell, I spent the best part of a decade struggling in silence! I was terrified nobody would believe me, that people would think I'm crazy and attention seeking.

I posted on Twitter this week a mini thread about positive experiences with sharing mental health stories and asking for help. When I went to the doctors in 2016 I took a letter saying everything I needed to tell her. I knew that I would get too upset and wouldn't say everything. So she read my letter whilst I sobbed. She then spoke to me like a human being, she didn't judge me and she asked me all the questions a responsible medical professional should do. She explained my options with medication and therapy and she offered me a sick note whenever I needed it. It was such a relief.
I also wrote about how I told my employer at that time. I had decided to hand in my notice because I knew a 2 week sick note wasn't going to be enough time. Again I wrote a letter and they were beyond supportive. They made sure I was okay and comfortable whilst I worked my notice and they offered me the chance to work from home once I was ready to.

I think if I had heard more positive stories I may well have sought help sooner. Whilst mental health is talked about a lot all the time it's generally not positive stories. It's the horror stories and the new reports that link X, Y and Z to depression. These awareness weeks give us the chance to talk about our own experiences and show those people still struggling and hiding that it's okay and they can come out and ask for that help.

And the two go hand in hand... if the mental health services are better, then maybe more people will want to use them. But if people aren't wanting to come forward because maybe they're fearful or ashamed, then the people who have the power to improve these services aren't seeing the demand for them. There's absolutely no rush to seek help; do it in your time when you're ready but I don't think it's helpful to say "stop telling people to get help".

Something I'm not so sure about with the awareness weeks etc is to do with the corporate world. During these times companies, whether huge or small, post on social media about it. How they support those with mental health issues and how they want to spread the awareness. But are these thoughts actually extended in to their workplaces? I don't know anybody who's workplace offers any mental health training or educating. I don't know anybody who's workplace even mentions mental health in the company handbooks the same way that things like sick/maternity/bereavement leave is. If we have flu we can ring in to work, know we will be believed and go back when we are better. But can we do that during bad mental health times? Even though I am pretty open about my mental health now, I still don't feel like I could call in sick if I was having a 'bad brain day'.
I could be very wrong. I don't know anyone who works for huge companies. I could be being very cynical. But it seems like, sometimes, companies are jumping on the bandwagon like it's a fashion statement and just want the likes and to boost their Twitter engagement.
It would be great if companies can share their posts but also say how they implement mental health support. That would be so beneficial to a person who is hiding away being too afraid to ask for help.

In all, I like that we have these dedicated days to talk about mental health. No we don't have to limit these conversations to these days and we shouldn't. But having these days pop up every so often just acts as a reminder to those who don't have to think about mental health issues everyday. It makes sure that mental health doesn't get brushed under the rug. We have so much further to go to do better for everyone and the more it's put in front of people, the more likely that one day we'll get there.

Let me know what you think?

Also I wrote a piece about empathy and mental health for The Nopebook which you can read HERE.

And there is a great petition started by Natasha Devon to make it compulsory for there to be mental health first aiders in the workplace. You can sign the petition HERE.

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