Mental Health Awareness Week

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Here we go again. The one week of the year when people pay attention to hashtags, TV shows and internet articles on people having issues with their minds.

It’s a great thing – it makes sure everyone is focused on the issues but like any of these days or weeks once it’s not fashionable it’s forgotten. Except for those of us who can’t forget. Those of us who live it rather than become aware of it are being short-changed too often.

We are the easy fix to a blame culture – “he was said to have mental health issues” is often the lazy tagline from media outlets after a terrible attack. Where is the disdain for those in power who are not doing enough to stop the problem in the first place. We are reaching breaking point in the NHS for physical illness so there is little or no budget for mental health issues.

GPs can be equally as useless with some ignoring symptoms or pleas for help – is it because they don’t care or don’t understand? Or is the truth of the matter that funding has been stripped so far back that a prescription instead of a referral is easier? For example I haven’t had an appointment with my specialist for well over a year because when she left they didn’t replace her. I know if I called up I would probably get an appointment and I’m lucky that I haven’t really had any need to call in that time – but how many others sit silently without the support around them or the ability to do something about it themselves.

Employers happily display plaques and certificates to say they are Investors in People but how many managers or HR staff have any training or understanding of the real day-to-day issues some of us live with? Just as with conditions like Autism or CP or ME there is a clear lack of understanding with employers flailing around trying to find a “fix” to something that really just needs understanding. You’re not a health professional, you can’t make this disappear.

Coronation Street recently featured a story line about male suicide. While I commend the show for dealing with the issue sensitively and with the support of the Samaritans, it can’t be down to one TV show to raise the issue. There is a need for this to be constantly in the forefront of political discussion and policy. Young men are taking their lives in ridiculous numbers each day and yet no one seems to care until it directly impacts on them – when it’s too late.

I love the NHS and I’ve been very fortunate that anything I have ever needed treatment for, I have been well looked after, but not everyone is as fortunate. The taboos surrounding talking about mental illness are still entrenched in society – and not just our elders. Young people struggle every day with problems – anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, trauma and many other conditions. I see it every day in my classroom and there is little I or any of my colleagues can do to help. Resources are tight but the common sense that screams that dealing with the problem when it first arises would save money, time and heartache later in life.

I’m not angry there is an awareness week – I’m angry it’s not front and centre all the time. More people need to speak up to help remove the taboos and secrecy and shame and doubt and fear and confusion. More politicians, sportspeople, celebrities should add their voices. I know that more are coming forward all the time but as soon as they do some media outlets attack them for trying to make it fashionable to have a mental illness. We can’t stand for that as a community – ostracize the media not the individuals.

I have come up against ignorance, denial and discrimination because of my BiPolar condition. If I had asthma or diabetes no one would care and I would be automatically treated for it. I know it’s easy to say that diagnosing mental illness is more difficult, but that shouldn’t stop us trying to push for that.

With thousands of people committing suicide each year – 5600 in 2016 alone and the figures are rising year on year – we can’t ignore it much longer. It is the single biggest killer of 25-40 year old men. If it was a disease like cancer or a heart condition we would be running races for it, holding telethons and dressing up in silly costumes. But we don’t. Because we’re scared. It could be us, or someone close to us. If we get cancer we stand up proudly and declare how we are going to beat it, if we are told we have depression it’s suddenly our fault and something to be ashamed of.

We need to foster a more positive attitude toward these conditions and illnesses and stop allowing them to be excuses or clichés. Instead of Mental Health Awareness maybe it’s time for Mental Health Acceptance otherwise more will struggle, more will break and more will die. 

JD

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