Speaking of mental health… who’s responsibility is it to reduce stigma?

So it’s mental health awareness week and I’ve noticed the topic in the news quite a bit so far. Since footballer Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act, mental health is a hot topic amongst the football, and sporting world. Prince Harry also recently spoke about his own mental health and the fact that he has had counselling; which has got more and more people opening up. Great, right?

To an extent, yes. The more people talk, the less people fear. But, we are already hearing stories of people who have been let down by services. Young people are waiting up to 9 months in some places to receive some form of input from mental health services. Surely, we can expect numbers to rise as more people discuss mental health? Waiting lists getting longer. Work loads getting bigger. Any extra funding to go with that?

I would like you to imagine, for a moment, that you are in the middle of a ‘crisis’. Of course, everyone’s version of a ‘crisis’ will be very different from one anothers, so, let’s say for example, you’ve dialled 999 to report a fire and request fire engines. They arrive; that may be within seconds or minutes, and they quickly assess the situation. It’s clear the fire is spreading and fast becoming out of control. However, fire fighters can’t tackle the blaze; they have a backlog of other ongoing fires that require their attention. They might be able to dampen the scene, but they must get on and will be back when this fire gets to the top of the list.  

Obviously, in mental health, it might ‘look’ slightly different, but there are so many people on waiting lists for therapy. Some of these people might be self-harming on a regular basis. Some may have admitted they’ve been having thoughts of suicide because they feel so down, lost, out of control, empty, numb, a failure; the list goes on. Imagine opening up to somebody for the first time about your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, and then being told you have to wait months to see another person, where you are made to open it all up again. In fact, as it is now, you might open up to your GP as a starting point. Hard enough, and then they refer you for “help”. You might wait for a phonecall or appointment; which may take a week or more. You get your appointment through, psych yourself up for it and open up to the person who does your assessment. After that? You wait. And you wait. And you wonder why they’re not contacting you. Did they forget about you? Do they not think your feelings are ‘bad enough’ to receive their help? Are you even worthy of their support?

Talking is great, and it’s fab that so many high-profile people are opening up. But to me, it’s easy enough to talk about it when you’re not in it. When you’re actually going through that turmoil, usually your confidence and self-esteem are at an all time low. The last thing you feel like doing is baring your heart and soul to everyone, because “it is ok” to talk. 

Don’t get me wrong, it really is ok to talk; to the right person(s) at an appropriate time and in an appropriate place. It’s great to talk to somebody who has been through it and come out the other side; but not always. Sometimes I have spoken to people who have come through the other side, and rather than feeling positive for the future, I have felt even more hopeless. In that moment, I was nothing; a nobody, compared to this strong person I was speaking to. I was never going to be able to get to a position where my illness was under control or stable. 

Yes, speak about it if you want to. And don’t if you don’t. You are in control of how much you share and with whom. 

The way forward; is for each and every individual to look at themselves and how they respond to mental health. For each of us to take responsibility for our own judgements. For us to question our own behaviours and attitudes, and to be open to feedback and change.

If you cannot be sure you have all the facts of a situation, you are not in a position to judge another person or their situations. Remember, that we all make judgements whether we like to admit it or not. So learn yours and challenge them. We all have a mental health, like a physical health. And all of our mental health’s vary throughout our lives. That is why we all have a responsibility to improve how this country responds. 

Because one day, it might be you that needs a supportive response. And how people respond to you could potentially affect whether you live or die. 

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