It is no secret that mental health is becoming a more talked about topic year upon year, with the rise of social media which has forced us to become our worst critics with our flaws constantly on an endless feed and the inability to escape technology and the lack of funding that the NHS mental health services in the UK receive.
My own mental health struggle has been a rollercoaster, worsened at times by my gender identity as a trans man and how I am perceived. Whilst other times, I’ve found that I cannot pinpoint the exact reason as to why I feel the world crumbling down on me. Sometimes, it is like a lightbulb of hope is dimmed inside me and I suddenly see the world as nothing but darkness. The droughts of happiness can last for hours, days or even weeks. They can feel neverending but they do end, eventually. During the droughts, it is difficult to motivate myself, to find interest in anything or to interact with others and talk about how I feel. But I try to remember that feelings are temporary, that it will go as long as I don’t let it consume me and do my best to do what I can to help myself.
What helps my mental health is being a part of something. When I was part of the Achieve Project at The Warren, I took part in a group project called Three Minute Heroes which was all about writing to promote good mental health. For a lot of people, writing can be an emotional exercise that stops us from bottling our thoughts up and encourages us to spill them on the page and share with others. For me, it was a positive experience in a supportive environment (unlike the outside world, people didn’t want to tear one another down). This also helped with my transition to university where I study Creative Writing and I’m required to share my work in a workshop setting in which everyone has a discussion about one another’s pieces. When I feel down, I want to believe everything negative about myself and about the world. So it is refreshing to hear positives and praise about my work, particularly as my worries often lie with my writing and being afraid that no one will appreciate my work.
Aside from writing, talking to others can help although this does not have to be a therapist, a counsellor can provide an impartial voice that isn’t concerned about pressures that loved ones put on you or that you put on yourself. Friends and family of course are incredible sources of moral support and can be there whenever you need them, so utilising them by spending time with them, preferably out of the house is key to helping your mental health. Of course sometimes mental health needs medical intervention too and that is okay. What helps one person might not help their friend.
I admire those who open up about mental health, it is important to combat the stigma and ignorance surrounding it. However, I have noticed a trend online where people seem to target famous people who speak about their struggle with poor mental health as they have come to the conclusion that you cannot be mentally ill if you are successful, rich or have plenty of people around you. The truth is mental health issues do not discriminate. It does not care if you are the star of a box office success, have a number one album or work in healthcare. You cannot prevent it from arising, no matter how much support you have. You can have all the support in the world but your mind can be against you.
Whilst it is true that women and young people are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, suicide is the biggest killer in men in the UK and so men are encouraged to speak up even if just to friends or employers. Though it is often hard for those suffering to reach out and take those steps to get the support they need so it is important to check in with loved ones, particularly if you notice they haven’t messaged you in a while or missed social events. People can find comfort in knowing that others do care about them, it helps to know you’re not alone.
It is not enough to only care about mental health when it comes to annual events like World Suicide Prevention Day, National Mental Health Day or when your favourite soap drama covers the topic. Mental health is an all year round issue that deserves to be talked about more than a few times a year and not just when a loved celebrity discusses their experience with depression. The experiences are not a cry for attention or to gain fame, they are to highlight the issues others may face that can impact on one’s mental health and to spark debate and make a difference in the world. The stigma around mental health didn’t improve without people speaking up, creating art that challenged society’s view of mental health particularly compared to physical health to engage with those who didn’t understand the reality of ill mental health.
Whilst society has come a long way in recent years to educate itself on the impact of our words and actions on others, it still has a way to go. As a community, we need to continue the conversation, keep the doors open on this difficult topic which many shy away from, ensure it is not seen as a weakness to open up, there is strength in vulnerability. However, we also need to find a way to lessen the stress we put on each other and ourselves, through work and education. We cannot thrive as individuals if we are overwhelmed with the pressure in our lives.
Here are some statistics and further reading:
WORDS: Liam Harrison