On the 10th of October, Instagram feeds everywhere were lighting up, like brains in an MRI scan, with posts sharing experiences of mental health problems. It was, on the one hand, incredible to see so many people feeling empowered enough to share their stories and raise awareness for issues that are still so stigmatised in mainstream society. Unfortunately though, we can’t fix it all with a hashtag and in some ways I feel as though ‘the conversation’ around mental health has become much like medication for mental illnesses: it won’t cure anything on its own.
It often feels as though talking about our mental health is becoming the new hot trend with celebrities being praised for their bravery at opening up about their own journeys. And it is brave, I don’t deny that, but I can’t help feeling bitter that it is easy for those in positions of privilege to say ‘it’s ok to ask for help’. Many of us have been asking for help for years and been placed on waiting lists which seem unending, without the funds for private therapy. To be ‘prioritised’ many sufferers feel they have no other option but to go to extremes, severely self-harming and finding themselves in A&E or losing vast amounts of weight for example, in order to be taken seriously. And even when they do manage to access the right care, young people can be hospitalised on opposite sides of the country from their family and friends, when no beds are available at local units. If mental health services were properly funded and staffed it would prevent so many people from getting to this point.
There is a difference between struggling with your mental health and suffering with a debilitating mental illness. Whilst we might try our best to practice self-care and ‘stay positive’, it is immensely frustrating to hear this constantly when you are in the depths of an episode of mental illness and not receiving the support you need. There is definitely more awareness now about the ‘socially acceptable’ conditions like depression and anxiety, but people seem to be far less comfortable talking about personality disorders, schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses which are often the most stigmatised.
Whilst moving to university can be difficult for everyone, for those of us contending with mental illness it can seem all the more overwhelming. Keeping myself healthy and safe is a 24/7 job without much respite and it is made all the worse by being stuck in the gap between transferring NHS care teams from home to Bristol. These issues don’t disappear on World Mental Health Day for me or for so many other people. Opening up the conversation is a start but there is so much that isn’t being done by politicians or those in positions of power. We must harness the momentum behind the mental health conversation and use it to make real change.
Helpful numbers: Samaritans 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline); Bristol Mental Health crisis number 0300 555 0334; Mind 0300 123 3393