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The most important thing to initially establish is a general understanding of what mental health is, how mental health problems can manifest and who they can affect. The video below explores the general basis of mental health.
What are mental health problems?
It appears of vital importance to initially distinguish between the concept of 'mental health' and 'mental illness.' Mental health can be defined as your general state of wellbeing and mind, whereas mental illness can be determined as something that disrupts your mental state and interrupts how you feel, think, communicate and behave. Thus, mental health becomes something we can control in the most general sense. Mental illness is something that is outside of our own realm. But, enforcing positive choices to ensure a good state of mental health can have a knock on effect on the level to which mental illness can control and define an individuals life.
World Mental Health Day is observed globally on the 10th October every year, as it started as an initiative from the World Federation of Mental Health in 1992, acting as an attempt to increase mental health education and work at eradicating the social stigma that surrounds many mental illnesses. This years World Mental Health Day focuses on the theme of young people and mental health in a changing world.
Below are just a handful of statistics that epitomise the need to establish mental health understanding from an early age so that all individuals can get the help that they need, as a means of prevention from such mental illnesses developing as one ages.
- 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health issue.
- 50% of mental health issues develop by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
- It takes an average of ten years for a young person to get help for mental ill health.
- Suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged 5-19 (both boys and girls).
My perception on mental health and the way in which it is discussed has changed substantially over the previous few months, as I have become distinctly aware that the conversation surrounding mental health is dominated by an overwhelming sense of positivity. I spent a vast period of time writing about mental health when I believed I was 'out the other side' but by this point, my perception on my illness had become a secondary reaction, the rawness of my mind had subsided slightly and while I could still remember the pain that I had been feeling, I had detached myself from such circumstances and had a sense of positivity which somewhat diminished the severity of what I had been feeling previously. This is not to totally discredit the movements which tell you that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, I assure you these are vital, but simply that when examining mental illness and our approaches towards it in society—we must meet it with a sense of reality. For so long I spent time preaching about mental health awareness, discussing how life was positively better when I had overcome certain hurdles, but such a perception is a limited and false one. What we require is an understanding rather than an awareness of mental illness, and that is where the prospect of success in prevention lies.
I've sought for the day that mental illness was openly discussed and accepted in society from the very first time it infiltrated my life, but over the past couple of years I've become a bystander as depression and anxiety went from unspoken topics to ubiquitous hashtags. But while we openly discuss these common forms of mental illness, what happens to the less 'palatable' disorders? The illnesses which present themselves in differing ways? Awareness is here and it has been for a while, predominantly for the less 'feared' mental illnesses, but a basis of knowledge and understanding of all mental illnesses is needed, rather than an awareness of a select few.
I'm guilty of it myself, discussing mental illness within the realms of only anxiety and depression, as these are the two which I have come in to direct contact with and have the greatest understanding of. But it is fundamental to make sure that other forms of mental illness such as psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, PTSD, OCD to name but a few are also accepted, considered and understood in the same breath that anxiety and depression are.
Awareness has increased significantly in the previous few years, and this changing environment is the subject of much of this years mental health day's focus. But similarly to only combatting the less feared forms of mental illness, we also need to reinvent the way we approach individuals and the way they tackle their mental illness. While you feel for the girl in a therapists office breaking down as she explains the pain she is constantly feeling, share some time and care for the man that is turning to drugs in order to combat their own illness. While you run to the aid of that man threatening to leap from a bridge, take the time to help the woman that feeds her body with whiskey and cigarettes in order to numb her wounds. It's all in prevention but unfortunately we live in a society where we create a stigma around coping mechanisms but then mourn for those that suffered when they are no longer here to see the love and compassion that surrounded them.
Many are so adamant in this modern era that we are eradicating the stigma of mental illness, which to some degree is very much true - but a fundamental issue still remains. Mental illness can lead to individuals acting in ways which are relentlessly condemned by the wider population. We ostracise people dependent on the way in which they tackle their mental illness. But with a sincere inability to truly provide for mental illness sufferers globally, it is no wonder that many turn to unhealthy forms of self medication in order to merely make it through a day. Nobody has perfect mental health. More importantly, nobody tackles their poor mental health in the most positive way initially. It's a process. The key to a generally healthier population lies in prevention, so a focus on spreading knowledge of all mental illnesses is crucial if we as a population are going to successfully develop.
While we remain open to a glamourised image of mental illness, whereby depression and anxiety appear to be the only mental illnesses that are approached and tackled with common understanding and empathy, mental illness spans far wider than we are indoctrinated to believe and it is fundamental to expand our knowledge on this topic. Our knowledge and understanding needs to be widespread and permanent, not limited to a handful of diagnoses that only appear important when someone's life is literally put on the line. Prevention is needed. Bold, effective action is long overdue.
While you're here, please take a look at a campaign very close to my heart, which attempts to promote awareness and create a dialogue surrounding mental illness in the American Football community. Their message is a fundamental one and it is of sincere hope that it'll become more widespread as this campaign develops, the discussion of men and mental health is so rarely openly discussed and this campaign truly has been a form of inspiration for myself.
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