“Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.” — Pastor Rick Warren
I'm aware that some people may be posing the question: why do we still need a Mental Health Awareness Week? Because, yes, our awareness on mental ill-health has improved substantially in recent years and I am the first person to wish for a time where a mental health awareness week wasn't necessary, but unfortunately it is still of fundamental importance. It’s now time for this awareness that has been raised in previous efforts to transcend boundaries and ignite necessary action. Recent studies from the Centre for Medical Health unveiled that it takes an average of ten years for a young adult to receive the help they need to tackle their mental illness. Ten years. Just think about all of the things that have happened in the previous ten years of your life. Now think about all the things you wish to happen in the following ten years. Ten years. That makes up just under half of my life. Ten years could be the difference between health and ill-health, between strength and weakness, between life and death.
It simply amazes me that we still attempt to classify every mental illness under the bracket of "mental health." If someone broke their leg, our reaction would not simply be, "Oh, someone has done something to hurt their physical health," so why is it when someone suffers from BPD, we immediately just call it "an issue with mental health" without distinction to the specific needs of their suffering? People accommodate those with physical ill-health because that is entirely the way this world should operate, but when the illness is not visible, when wounds are disguised by external appearance, it appears seemingly impossible to expect the same form of outer acceptance. We are so accepting of any other of our body breaking down, but when it comes to our minds, we're simply ignorant.
Mental health disorders are the least visible, and sufferers are often the least vocal, so a week in order to share stories and to promote the necessity to get help is crucial. It brings the topic to the forefront and forces those that sometimes shy away from the harsh realities of mental ill-health, to become submerged in a differing culture whereby those that suffer from mental illness’ are made to feel normal, accepted.
Seeking help for my mental health was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I spent 19 years trapped in a body and engulfed by a mind that simply could not function in the atypical way, but the most important step for me was simply recognising that I had an illness and that it was fine to seek help. I deserved help for it, much like I would have if that illness had been a physical one. Two and a half years later and I am still alternating my forms of treatment, trying to decipher the best way for me to improve my mental wellbeing. I will be in this process forever, but I am not afraid of that any more. The battle is a long one, but I have been taught by the stories of others that it is a battle most definitely worth fighting.
I will never be silenced when it comes to my experience with mental health, because the more we are open with mental illness, the more we discuss it and the impacts it can have on the individual, the less stigma that will surround it.
Every single person walking this planet could be taken mentally ill at any point in their existence. By eliminating the stigma, we enable sufferers to take action to help themselves. It's time to speak up, to create a society whereby the ignorance and misunderstanding of mental ill health is void. The British culture of maintaining a "stiff upper lip" will ultimately be the downfall of this country, and while many remain fearful of expressing the workings of their mind, it is necessary this mental health awareness week to eradicate the stigma. Talk about it.
It is so easy to create an image of yourself which appears "fit" for public consumption, but sometimes it is necessary to shatter these images—to express our true inner workings, because in being honest we unveil a form of strength that can define a generation. This week, do yourself a favour. Shower yourself with self love, consider how well you're actually doing. Are you thriving, or merely surviving? Turn to friends, family, loved ones—ensure they know that if they are struggling with anything, they have resources and people to turn to. Your mental health is more important than your test, your interview, your friends' birthday night out, your family dinner, your football match. Take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to spread your story, for you could be the inspiration for another person to come forward and seek the help they so desperately need.
Mental health is just as important as physical health and the sooner the stigma surrounding mental health issues is eradicated, the sooner people no longer have to feel oppressed by their own inner demons. Without the correct help and guidance, there is no progression, only survival.
Mental Health numbers you can call if you're struggling or find yourself in crisis:
- Samaritans - 116 123
- CALM - 0800 58 58 58
- YoungMinds - 0800 018 2138
- ChildLine - 0800 1111
- No Panic - 0800 138 8889
- SANE - 0300 304 7000
- Get Connected - 0808 808 4994