Seeing as this year’s mental health week is on its last legs, I’m drawn to think of what a week like this means to me, and indeed, to society at large.
If this week makes one thing abundantly clear it is this: anyone at any point can suffer from a mental illness. Mental illness pervades through society, at every level. It effects anyone you can possibly think of, astronauts, arctic explorers, writers, bankers, builders – absolutely anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin or their class/material wealth, can be stricken by mental illness.
Looking at all the content being produced for this year’s mental health awareness week has been overwhelming. Mental illnesses are beginning to enter the cultural conversation in a more positive way – I’ve seen a lot of thought provoking and interesting things this week – articles on the music industry and mental health by Noisey, an article on Bojack Horseman and its depiction of depression, photography projects. Any medium you can think of has been utilised in the name of this cause.
What has been most enlightening for me though is reading individual stories. The banker who struggles to get out of bed and function. The young musician who dies far too young by suicide. The girl with OCD who is sitting her A-levels exams. It is these personal stories that break through the wall of silence that surrounds mental health, make conversation and subsequently turn the conversation, once started, into a more positive and affirming one.
Of course, I’ve been doing some odd things here and there too. I strived to post something for everyday of the week and shared anything I found interesting on social media. I did a picture story on Instagram about my time in psychiatric wards. I’ve written articles about my depressive episodes, my time in hospital and the NHS. All together the response to these things has been loving and caring. The blog now has over five hundred views and I’m absolutely astonished by that. (At the time of writing that number has now more than quadrupled!). When I made this blog I only really imagined that a few select friends would see it so to see the viewership blow up like that is heart-warming and it simply means the world.
I started this blog as I thought it might help some people. I wanted somewhere to put all my mental health awareness stuff so that my social media accounts wouldn’t get clogged up. Principally though I made this blog because I felt a strange obligation to speak at length about my experiences.
I’ve never really felt an allegiance to a cause as such and I’ve never really felt the need to trot a party line. When I got out of hospital I knew that something had shifted. I knew that if I went into the woodwork and swept my mental illness and my experiences under the rug then I would be contributing to stigma. If enough people go into the woodwork then you have a conspiracy of silence around mental illness and nothing changes, stigma remains. I never thought I would be in any position to say this but I felt obligated to speak, as best I could, about things that otherwise may not necessarily be talked about.
Like I said, five hundred people have seen this blog. (Now the number has more than quadrupled!). Let’s think about that for a second, that’s five hundred parents who may now understand their relative, that’s five hundred people who may feel just a little bit less alone and strive to get out of bed today. Of course, it could just be five hundred people who are simply curious, and that’s okay. That’s five hundred people who now, in theory, know something that they simply didn’t before. That’s five hundred people who could well go on to change attitudes and start a conversation that may be hard but that is absolutely necessary.
The articles that have the most viewership are the resources I posted, and my articles on suicide and my time in psychiatric hospitals and my interactions with the NHS respectively. The ‘day in the life’ article I wrote attracted a fair bit of attention too. (This has since been trumped a million times over by my post on James Rhodes’ book Instrumental). Clearly, these taboos attract people and it felt as though something was being whispered that may not have otherwise been said at all. To all these articles and more the response has been nothing but overwhelming positive.
Highlights for me this week included the coverage on the Heads Together campaign that the royal family launched at the start of the week (the hashtag MHAW16 trended worldwide for a day), and I really enjoyed doing the Instagram story about my experiences in psychiatric hospitals. As is usually the case, the ideas that I didn’t plan but that just arose on the day spontaneously were the best in terms of my enjoyment of them and also in terms of the response they received.
2016 isn’t as enlightened a year as we’d like to think. There’s still a rampant stigma around mental health. I can remember when I got myself into an A&E as I was a danger to myself, me and the other people in the waiting room started talking. We were all young and nobody could have been older than twenty five. We ran through the reasons why we were all there. Someone had been beaten up in the street, another person had cut their finger while cooking, while another sat in silence. And then the conversation turned to me. When I said i was there for my mental health it was as though I’d told them about a massive genital ward. Things are far better than they used to be but there’s still quite a way to go before mental illnesses are treated in the same way as physical illnesses are.
Seeing so much positive conversation over the course of this week has been humbling and heart-warming. This isn’t to say that the negatives of the situation were glossed over though, as there was a litany (rightfully so) of articles on the state of the NHS and how it treats the mentally ill, the bed shortages that is ravaging the UK, and the fact that mentally ill young people are being put in police cells rather than receiving proper treatment. Attention was also drawn to the more marginalized mental illnesses, such as BPD, schizoaffective disorder, and OCD for example.
Depression is making a good foothold in terms of understanding. This isn’t to say that the same is also true of other mental disorders though. Much work is left to be done, but it is only by talking that we can begin a conversation that desperately needs to become more than a whisper and instead needs to be a scream, a barbaric yawp for tolerance and understanding, and that’s something worth striving for and thinking about as this year’s mental health week draws to a close.
Update – Since writing this yesterday James Rhodes read/shared my post on his brilliant book, Instrumental. Since then the blog’s views have quadrupled! Absolutely humbled and over the moon, a brilliant and surprising way to end this year’s mental health awareness week!