So I thought it would be a good idea to start a “mini series” of sorts, where I address topics which would otherwise be hard to address or are stigmatised against being openly discussed, whether that’s because of a cultural barrier, or just simply because it’s an awkward topic to talk about. In honour of Mental Health Awareness month/week, I’m kicking off with a look at mental health.
Take a moment and think about what good mental health means for you. For some, it could be feeling satisfied with one’s aesthetics, for another person it may mean not worrying about financial problems, and for others, it could simply mean being able to face each day with a smile. You see, mental health is a very subjective thing, and as such, not only can it not be defined in a single, absolute manner, but it is also affected by an infinite amount of factors. This may sound like a big claim, but when you actually step back and take a look at what mental health has the capacity to encompass, you realise that it is incredibly vast, and to try and simplify it to a single definition would be a huge injustice to those suffering from mental health illness.
This tendency to have a tunnel-vision image of what mental health actually is can be blamed on the portrayal of mental health in popular media. It may seem like an old argument, but it is, unfortunately, incredibly true. A lot of us base our perceptions of mental health on what we are presented with in film and journalistic media, and this isn’t always a true representation of what mental health really is (especially in the latter case). In the latter case, I hear you ask? Let me break it down.
When we go to the cinema, we expect that what we are watching is fictional, or in the very least, that it’s not true-to-life (for example, in case of biographical cinema, where some events may be over-dramatised for effect). When we watch the news, or read print and digital media, we expect an honest, unbiased account of the days proceedings. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that this expectation is something that we cannot have. Media is becoming increasingly polarised, and it’s easy to see political affiliation take precedent over objective reporting. That’s not to say that there aren’t unbiased news outlets out there, it’s simply just a pattern that has been emerging in recent years. Lets take the USA for example. It’s no secret that the country is a melting pot of cultures, faiths, and identities. The concept of knowing your rights and actually having rights is something that is engraved into not only their constitution, but is etched into their minds all the way through their lives, and this is a good thing. Lets compare that to the UK, and I can assure you that less of us Brits will be able to tell you what constitutional rights we hold when compared to our cousins over the pond, most of whom will know the majority of the Bill of Rights off by heart. The Second Amendment, out of the ten that make up The Bill of Rights, is as follows:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Everyone is aware of the gun debate in America, and the calls for stricter regulation around guns. Some people are for guns, and others remain opposed. But that isn’t the problem here. The problem is where there are mass shootings, events which are already tragic and horrific in nature, being casually associated with mental health. How many times could you say that you’ve heard “shooter” and “mental health” in the same sentence in these instances? The media is incredibly quick to link the two, with no thought of the consequences. The truth is very different from what they portray it to be. Experts in psychology and mental health have constantly spoken out against this bizarre media practice, often to no avail. For the media it is convenient to use mental health as a scapegoat, but for those of us who do indeed suffer from mental health problems, we find ourselves more stigmatised and sidelined than before. Not only that, but less refined media outlets will not refrain from using offensive terms such as “nutjob” to describe those suffering from mental health issues. I’ve condensed what I’ve said into a very small paragraph or two, but perhaps I’ll come back to this point later.
Like I mentioned in this post before, mental health can be affected by a number of factors, and often, we judge someone’s mental health based on their physical, observable symptoms, and forget to acknowledge the internal struggles that they may be facing. Lets take depression. People (rather ashamedly, myself included), throw around the term “depressed” in such a casual manner. We use it to describe periods of low mood, or just general sadness, because that’s what we associate with the illness. However, depression is so much more than that. Sometimes it may not be outwardly obvious that someone is suffering from depression. They may seem happy and jovial, with no sign of sadness, but what you don’t see is the internal struggle. It can be a struggle to even wake up in the morning, to leave your room, to go into school or work. You feel like you’re fighting against yourself, and it’s a battle you’ll never win. And despite everyone telling you (rather unhelpfully) that it’s all in you’re head and that you’re fine, you can’t help but feel that all of this is incredibly real (and it really is).
It’s important to remember that mental health struggles don’t just fall into the traditional realm of mental health disorders and illness. Your mental health can take a hit even if you’re not diagnosed with something like depression or anxiety. For example, being bullied can decrease confidence and self-esteem, and have a long lasting impact on how you view yourself. Key life events such as having a child, changing jobs, getting married, all introduce new changes that can also take some time to adjust to, and can cause mental health to suffer as a result. Just keep that in mind (pun intended).
So if you take one thing from this post, let it be this: open your minds, open your hearts and open your ears. If you see someone struggling, don’t let them suffer in silence. Offer an ear and a shoulder, and just listen to them. Even if you feel that you give the most advice in the world, just let them talk to you, because most of the time, just having someone who listens is soothing for someone suffering from mental health issues. Just remember to be kind and considerate wherever possible.
Do good, and good will come to you.
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