A major theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is that mental illness, despite not always carrying the same physical, outward symptoms, is just as important as physical illness. In the past, this hasn't been the case; mental health has often been swept under the rug, with some sufferers even feeling guilty or ashamed for having to deal with it.
Now, perceptions around mental health are moving in the right direction, but it remains a slow transition. The Mental Health Foundation has said that for every person affected by Cancer in the UK, over £1,500 is spent on research, while for people with ill mental health, it’s less than one percent of that.
This is despite the fact that mental health issues - particularly anxiety - are prevalent among young people. There are often throwaway, cliche explanations for this, including a lack of sleep, or an obsession with things such as social media. Anxiety, however, goes far beyond this. It comes from a feeling of uncertainty about what is ahead, and Millennial's, at a stage of life where so much can seem uncertain, are more vulnerable to it than most.
There are several worrying statistics, with depression now the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year old's, and the issue is becoming more and more mainstream. Coinciding with the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, Teresa May said that if she wins the general election she will replace what she calls a flawed mental health act.
Thankfully, in recent years, public attitude has started to change, and is at least on the right path to helping people. Depression can affect anyone and more and more celebrities and acclaimed artists, who so often get held up as almost superhuman, have opened up to mental health issues. Likewise, other parts of society are becoming more open, and people are being encouraged to do likewise, so that everyone can gain a better understanding of what depression is and how it can be prevented and treated, in the hope that mental illness will eventually be viewed in much the same way as physical illness.
Several high profile people have spoke out in favour of this change recently. Former England cricketer Freddy Flintoff said this week that the word 'stigma' shouldn't be used about mental health. Having suffered from depression, he says: "I know [stigma] is a buzz-word at the minute and people say about "breaking down the stigma". I hear it all the time and for me it's a word that shouldn't be used.'
'I'm on medication (anti-depressants)...If I was playing cricket and I had a bad leg, I'd take an anti-inflammatory. If I had a headache, I'd have an aspirin or a paracetamol. My head's no different. If there's something wrong with me, I'm taking something to help that.'
- Freddy Flintoff
Last month, Prince William said something similar, explaining that the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip should never be applied to mental health issues, but that instead people should feel open to expressing their feelings. One of the key messages of his Heads Together campaign is that 'It's okay to have this conversation, it's really important to have this conversation and know that you won't be judged.'
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently spoke about the issue on Radio 1, and when asked about how young people sometimes think they can't share how they feel, for fear of embarrassment or not being taken seriously, William said: 'It's been eye opening to see how much this issue of mental health is brimming under the surface of public consciousness...it's a case of trying to get people to have a conversation and realise that emotions aren't a bad thing, we've all got emotions and we need to speak about them.'
This epitomises much of this years #MentalHealthAawrenessWeek message. Elsewhere, other consistently advised practices include eating well and drinking sensibly, keeping in touch with friends and caring for people, accepting who you are and doing things you’re good at.
These are all things we can do to try and look after ourselves, but just as important is looking after each other, especially if we're lucky enough to be free of Mental Health issues. More help than ever is on offer with regards to Mental Health, but there's still more that can be done. As 3BM, an employee-led mutual organisation that focuses on support services to schools, says: ‘one in four people has a mental illness. You can be the one that helps.’
Where to get help
- Your local GP
- South West College, Student Support Officer (calling into the Student Services Office or email:
- Carecall – 0800 389 5362
- Aware - 0845 120 2961
- Aware - have 23 support groups throughout Northern Ireland which welcome people with depression as well as the family and carers of people with depression. For more information on our support groups, please click here (https://www.aware-ni.org/information-about-our-support-groups.html)
- www.turn2me.org – free online counselling
- Saneline - 0300 304 7000
- Lifeline – 0808 808 800