There are millions of World Mental Health Day blogs floating around today. Lots of thoughts, opinions, and very valid points.
In my little world, there is a lot of talk of mental health. I work in mental health. I live a life alongside patches mental ill-health. I have friends with mental illnesses. There is mental illness in my extended family. Sometimes it can feel like it’s everywhere (though that doesn’t necessarily make me feel any less alone at times).
I wonder if this awareness spreads outside of my bubble, though? I wonder if those who don’t work or volunteer in mental health are even aware that today is World Mental Health Day? It’s been trending on Twitter all day, but lots of things trend on Twitter and I can’t say I notice most of them (I did notice that this week is World Chocolate Week, though, that’s an important one!).
It often feels as though lots of people are shouting about mental health but nobody is really listening. There’s a lot of preaching to the converted that seems to go on. You see the same people talking/writing/tweeting about mental health over and over again, but I don’t know whether it ever reaches anyone new. You can shout ‘mental health is just as important as physical health’ until you’re blue in the face, but that’s not particularly helpful when you’re signed off work, staring at an 18 month waiting list for any kind of help, feeling utterly alone and hopeless.
Services let people down, perhaps in my home and volunteering life more than my job, but there are people falling through the cracks time and time again. It’s not that the staff aren’t trying, it’s not that they don’t want to help, it’s that services are stretched to breaking point and the help that many people need simply doesn’t exist. At the more extreme end of this, it leads to people dying, either as a side effect of their illness, or through suicide (which I suppose you could argue is also a side effect of their illness). In more hidden ways, it’s people unable to get back to work, or to even leave the house. It’s my friends whose bodies are slowly falling apart because their eating disorder has been untreated for many years. It’s those who are in and out of A&E on a weekly basis. It’s those people whose lives have been put on hold indefinitely. It’s those who haven’t been able to share a meal with their family for many years, those who are unable to have a relationship, those who can’t remember the last time they fell asleep without crying. There are so many people fighting hidden battles on a daily basis. There are so many people who need some help.
I don’t really talk about my own mental health much online, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant and to be honest, I struggle to know what’s going on myself most of the time, never mind attempting to articulate it or put some words onto a document.
After running events on campus the last two years (which I’m delighted to say other people are running this year), I haven’t done much for World Mental Health Day this year. I’ve come to work which I suppose is mental health related, but I haven’t had the energy or drive to do much else. Today my work included visiting an Accessible Arts organisation, which was great! It’s amazing how much is going on in the community that we (I) don’t know about.
The one thing that do I see time and time again in my job (and other volunteering), is how amazing people can be. I meet people bouncing back from horrible circumstances, people dedicating their lives to helping others, people getting up and dressed day after day, facing battles that most would have no idea they are facing. Organisations are doing incredible work on tiny budgets; so many staff working over their hours week after week. People are amazing, people are resilient, people are kind, creative, generous, humbling.
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘psychological first aid and the support people can provide those in distress‘. A bit of a mouthful, really, lots of long words. Essentially it’s being human, though. It’s hugging a sibling who’s crying, dropping a text to your friend who’s gone AWOL, and grabbing a cup of tea and a chat with your colleague who’s had a lot going on lately. It’s asking ‘are you okay?’ and genuinely wanting an answer. It’s accepting that if someone is distressed, it’s not your job to decide they shouldn’t be distressed, but instead trying to understand or at least asking them how you can help.
Statistically, 1 in 4 of the population has a mental illness, but 4 in 4 of the population has mental health. Be kind to yourself, and to those around you. Remember that it’s perfectly okay not to be okay.