Mental Health Awareness, Why We Must Talk – the RIGHT WAY – to Keep Change Coming

Last week saw Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – the annual event raising awareness and reducing stigma for those struggling with mental health conditions.

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As life-long fighters against the black dogs ourselves, at Beyond Fabulous, we are staunch advocates for the rights of those struggling with mental illness and we were thrilled to see so many inspirational, honest and transparent accounts of people’s struggle and experiences.  The theme of surviving and thriving was certainly embraced by any.

The problem is that with four in ten of us claiming to have experienced depression and panic attacks, no matter how high profile the person sharing their stories, one week isn’t enough.

Writing for the Guardian, Eva Wiseman agrees.  Saying: ‘talk is cheap’, she worries that simply holding awareness campaigns isn’t going to engender real change.

Whilst she shares our idea that sparking discussion around issues can at least raise their visibility, she doesn’t feel that even with the profile of the Royal Family, for example, ‘awareness’ campaigns are terribly effective.

Justifiably arguing that it’s all very well for Prime Minister Theresa May to pay lip service to the ‘braveness’ of those speaking out, given that her party is scything through mental health services, could awareness be counterproductive?

After all, as Eva says, it’s all very well to be aware of your depression, but that awareness won’t stop it from overwhelming you if you have a year’s wait for any kind of real support.  Making cuts when the number of young people doubled accessing A&E with psychiatric problems between 2009 and now, whilst praising the bravery of those same young for talking about it?  There’s something very wrong with that.

The problem is that with four in ten of us claiming to have experienced depression and panic attacks, no matter how high profile the person sharing their stories, one week isn’t enough.

There’s also something very wrong with a generation so overwhelmed, so unable to cope that they are receiving the highest diagnosis rates in history.  We can talk about depression, but if we don’t look at the root causes of the sadness, desperation and malaise plaguing our young, is there a point?

We’ve heard much made of the ‘snowflake’ generation. A generation of young people pampered by their parents spoiled and made soft – unable to cope.

But given that the average young person is:

  • Likely to come out of university with up to £30000 of debt, but is unlikely to get a job, instead being offered free or very low wage ‘internships’ as an alternative.
  • Abused in the media for being demanding and spoiled.
  • Faces not being able to afford their own home until they’re in their forties (if then), instead, paying an average minimum of half their income on rent alone in some areas.
  • Are the first generation to be predicted to die younger that their parents?

Is it surprising that they’re miserable and jaded?  Is this really the best we can offer them?  No real future and a fistful of judgement for being comfortable sharing their disappointment at the road ahead?

Certainly, in her mail column, Jane hears extremely sad stories from young people who feel their lives have been curtailed before they ever began.

Depression is a shadow stalking our young people – but it would be a lie to say they don’t have any reasons why.

Of course, it’s not just the young that are depressed and that’s where we have further concerns – concerns not addressed in the slightly ‘populist’ tone to a lot of last week’s celebrity reveals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a similar number of older people are experiencing depression rates in similar numbers, but the stiff upper lip we were raised with instead leads to addiction and abuse issues.

Older women often still find the stigma of mental health issues impossible to raise – not wanting to be a burden or be weak leads us to ‘keep on keeping on’.  We tend to be diagnosed with myriad other ailments before anyone realises that what we really are is struggling.

Loneliness, bereavement, feeling ‘left behind’.  All reasons for us to struggle, but we never feel we can share that with anyone and we’re certainly still not comfortable with medication as a solution to ‘life’.

It seems to us that there absolutely is a conversation still to have around mental health. If you’re struggling, regardless of your age tell someone, anyone who can give you support.

If someone tells you they’re struggling – even if you don’t have the answers, let them talk, listen and sit with them for as long as they need.

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But further to that, we ALL have a duty, whether we’ve experienced mental health concerns or not to keep talking to the right people.

Write to your MP, complain where you can – and yes, tweet and post about how wrong it is that any government would leave us with a health infrastructure unable to offer even basic support to the most vulnerable amongst us.   Sign petitions (check change.org) and make a nuisance of yourself.

Share the stories of failure – shame those with the power to make a change into doing so (and remind them that you’ll remember having to do that when you cast future votes) and don’t let the pressure lift. Only then will the most privileged among us, those who CAN make a difference, feel they HAVE to make a difference.

If you’re going to #talkaboutit great – but make it count.

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