By Molly la Fosse
The stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health problems is a prevalent issue in our society. In fact, when you google the word ‘stigma’, the example sentence that comes after it’s definition is ‘the stigma of mental disorder’ :
Studies conducted by Mind and the Mental Health Foundation found that nine in ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination – whether it be from friends, family, colleagues or employers – have a negative effect on their lives.
I really think that the more we talk in a frank, open way about how we are feeling the easier it will be to erase this stigma, and will help those suffering from mental health issues to realise that they are not alone, that the human condition is universal and that you can get through your current struggles, just like many others have. The idea that admitting to emotional distress or mental health problems makes you ‘weak’ – a notion that seems to be unfortunately prevalent in male culture – is ridiculous; anyone can suffer from a mental illness, just like anyone can suffer from physical illnesses at some point in their life. If you broke your leg and couldn’t go back to work/school until it had properly healed, no one would make you feel inadequate or guilty about your ailments. In the same way we should not shame those with mental illnesses, nor treat it as a taboo subject.
Society’s attitude to emotional and mental health can especially impede or delay young, impressionable children and teenagers going to talk about how they’re feeling and getting help, from fear of being labelled as different or even a ‘freak’. This can lead to feelings of isolation and could have a seriously detrimental effect on their mental health. Studies show that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems in a given year and 450 million people world-wide have a mental health problem. They’re nowhere near as rare as some might think, and so it makes no sense why there is still such a stigma surrounding them.
Adwoa Aboah, a mental health and women’s rights activist, has set up ‘Gurls Talk’, a space where she is aiming to get girls talking in a safe and non judgemental environment. Whilst some people have tried to attack this movement for being sexist and exclusive, I would argue that a man is very welcome to open up a space for men to talk openly about mental health and other struggles in their lives, but for now Adwoa is doing the very important job of creating one for girls – after all, a lot of mental health discussion revolves around the ‘self’ and the only self that Adwoa can genuinely say she has experienced and can relate to is that of a female. The reason for it being a girls only initiative is that she has realised through personal experience that women feel more comfortable sharing details about their lives in an all female environment, and talking to each other with complete, unfiltered candour also helps to remove the competitive and judgemental relationship that can often arise between women.
Sadly it appears that the stigma around mental disorder is stronger here in the UK than in other parts of the world (which could be contributed to Tory austerity and the very English concept of a ‘stiff upper lip’). I was talking to my friend who lives in Brazil and she found it surprising that going to a therapist could be seen as unusual or even something to hide in the UK. She said that in Brazil, many people saw one in order to have a chat about how your life was going, to get things off your chest and get advice on day to day things – like you would with family or friends, except with a professional. I think this is a great way to look at therapy and counselling, one which will take the strain off those who consider the option of talking to someone but are stopped by that ever looming question, ‘what will people think?’
So next time you want to talk about your mental health but are stopped by that voice of stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by media and people around us, remember that you are most definitely not alone, and that living with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems is pretty unbearable if you keep it all bottled up inside.
Let’s start a conversation of talking about how we feel, whether it’s good or bad, pretty or ugly.
Other options include having a read of books, websites, articles, even Instagram pages that discuss mental health in an open and real way.
To find out more about this topic and to join the fight, check out these amazing websites, pages, magazines etc…
(these are just a couple examples)
– i-D (great website too)
– Doll Hospital Journal
– The Messy Heads
– savannah brown (YouTube)
-Style Like U on YouTube (especially the What’s Underneath Project videos)
– TED Talks – they have a playlist specifically for their talks about the mind (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOGi5-fAu8bGfHYWFOpfTY3tgakV8D-HZ)
– The School of Life (youtube)
-Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast, http://mentalpod.com