You may have seen TV adverts recently to raise awareness of how we treat people dealing with mental ill-health. Here’s my take on the top five reasons why people don’t talk more freely about the issues involved.Reason No 1: ‘Other people just don’t want to know’Often there’s a kind of conspiracy of silence around someone experiencing a period of mental ill-health. People are worried about saying the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything, and the person concerned feels like no one wants to know.Reason No 2: ‘Its like admitting you can’t cope’Even though most people may really be sympathetic, there’s always someone who gives that most unhelpful of all advice – just pull yourself together – however that might be disguised! The trouble is that when you’re experiencing mental ill-health, there’s that inner voice hammering away telling you the very same thing.Reason No 3: ‘You’re less likely to get that promotion, job, insurance policy….’Its true! Sadly, such is the ignorance around mental ill-health that there really is discrimination out there. If you disclose even past experience of mental ill-health, research shows that you’re less likely to be employed than someone with a physical disability.Reason No 4: ‘Losing touch with yourself’Experiencing a period of mental ill-health can be devastating to someone’s self confidence. Coping mechanisms used before no longer seem to work, it feels as if you’re not even the same person. Expressing this to other people, even to ourselves, can be really difficult. Apparently our most common responses to stress are to ‘do nothing, just live with it’, ‘eat comfort or junk food’ or ‘spend time alone’ (Be Mindful stress survey) – all ways to actively worsen our mental wellbeing, not improve it.Reason No 5: ‘People don’t know how to help’Such is our reluctance to discuss the issues, even someone with a high level of mental wellbeing is unlikely to know what they do to maintain it. We act as if our mental health was somehow circumstantial and beyond our control. Imagine having a conversation about someone’s poor physical condition or illness, and having no idea what factors can improve our physical health. This isn’t about medical training, it’s about common knowledge. If someone is experiencing mental ill-health, everything really does feel out of control and people we know feel helpless too.We’re all more than aware of the stereotypes and prejudice which surround mental ill-health. Who wants to identify with that? In fact it’s a wonder anyone talks about mental health at all!
Does it make you think of the peak of mental performance, or a healthy well-balanced mind?Its more likely you might think of ‘mental illness’, or people who are strange, not normal. You might think of mental health services which are quite scary. To be hospitalized for mental ill-health is not a thought which brings comfort or hope of cure.”…. for most people, especially those with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, the social reaction to the illness is far harder to recover from than the symptoms themselves.” Slade B, Mental health and well-being at the Workplace, WHO report 2010, p33The fact is that although about a third of GP time is spent dealing with mental ill-health, even though one in four of us will experience it in some form or another, we just don’t like to talk about it. Its the ‘elephant in the room’!There is still a shocking amount of discrimination and prejudice about people experiencing common mental health problems, let alone more serious disorders. Research suggests that employers are less likely to employ someone who admits to mental ill-health than they are someone with a physical disability, so it’s hardly surprising that people are less than open if they’re experiencing stress, anxiety or depression.When it comes to physical health we all know how we’re meant to look after ourselves, even if we don’t do it very well, but when it comes to our mental wellbeing we really don’t know what to do. In fact research has shown that the most common responses to stress are to ‘do nothing, just live with it’, ‘eat comfort or junk food’ or ‘spend time alone’, the very opposite of recommended stress management techniques.As a society we invest hugely in physical health – in research, in preventive services, in public health initiatives, in technological advances and in treatments. Yet what is often the most critical factor in maintaining our physical health or recovering from physical ill-health – yes, its our mental attitude, our ability to remain positive and enjoy life, our psychological resilience.How is it that we can take all kinds of measures to avoid infections, reduce risk of accidents, or eliminate diseases, yet there is no such momentum to improve our understanding and knowledge of emotional and mental wellbeing?So lets reclaim mental health and pay attention to our mental wellbeing whether individually, as parents, as communities, as a society.