Thursday 2 February 2017

Time to Talk: why talking about mental illness matters

As most of you will know, mental illness ranges from anxiety, to full blown depression, to Alzheimer's. It's a scale of vast proportions that affects a huge amount of people (it's estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week have experienced a mental health problem) yet there are those that still believe the words 'mental illness' refer to someone who is 'insane'. This is one reason why, now more than ever, we need to talk, educate and stop letting people suffer in silence.

My mental health story

When I was a teenager, my emotions were very unstable. You could put this down to hormones, but nobody else around me seemed to experience the kind of highs and lows that I did (or, they never told me, anyway). Personally, I put this down to my relationship with my parents, which was far from perfect. I worried intensely that they didn't love me. I would sit in my room in the dark for hours, asking myself if my parents would have been happier if I were never born, and this became a recurring activity for around four years. My mind would be plagued with thoughts of committing suicide, or having never been born in the first place, and it would last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. But then I would have ridiculous highs, where I was so elated that those thoughts seemed like a distant memory. I would tell myself I was silly for thinking them, and that things would only get better - but, of course, they didn't. And pretty soon I would be back in the dark, literally and figuratively.

At that time, I didn't have anyone to talk to. My dad was brought up with a 'stiff upper lip' attitude, and treated emotion like a foreign concept. My mum would think I was being over-dramatic, and an attention seeker. As I didn't want to let anyone else in, I had to live in silence with my illness until I started seeing my partner, who (despite not truly understanding how it feels to be mentally ill (and I'm incredibly thankful he's never had to feel like that)) has helped me to no end. Just having someone there to listen is a relief.

It saddens me that that's all I needed to get better. Why couldn't I have had that back when I was a teenager? Because, back then, the world's understanding of mental health was still very primitive; it was almost a taboo topic. If you had a mental illness back then, you were laughed at, or met with a confused stare, or even accused of lying. Now, with all the help we have available, it is a lot easier to find someone to talk to, whether that's a counselor provided by the NHS, a private therapist, an expert sourced through your office's Employee Assistance Scheme or an in-house counselor at your university. If I could have been offered one of these options growing up, I may now be able to look back at my high school years with happiness, rather than melancholy. So if you know anyone who is suffering from mental illness, or if you are suffering yourself, I urge you to speak to someone - don't waste precious time letting it consume you, or someone you love.

Facts about mental health from Time to Change, the UK-based institution aiming to end mental health discrimination

- 45% of people with mental health problems have been victims of a crime in the past year
- 26% of young people with a mental illness say the stigma they face has made them want to give up on life
- 90% of people with mental health problems experience stigma
- 17% of people will experience suicidal thoughts within their lifetime
- Two thirds of people with mental health problems believe that workplace stress contributed to their illness
- 60% of people with a mental illness wait over a year before telling their closest friends or family
- Around 1% of the population will experience obsessive compulsive disorder

Celebrities who have voiced their support for Time to Change

Actor, writer and presenter Stephen Fry -“I want to speak out, to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of mental illness that most people know little about.”

Singer, songwriter and actress Mel C“Mental health issues are just part of life and people can and do recover to lead full and successful lives. I’m pledging my support to help end mental health prejudice. When will you?”

DJ and presenter Trevor Nelson"I would like to pledge my support for ending prejudice and the stigma attached to people with mental health problems. I have met and been friends with many people over the years who, through some trauma in their lives, have never fully recovered and find it difficult to cope. I honestly believe having mental health issues is often misunderstood, that’s why I try not to desert these people."

Journalist, broadcaster and presenter Fiona Phillips“I pledge to help end mental health prejudice, because people with mental-health problems need love, understanding and support - not to be told to 'pull yourself together.'  It's our outdated attitudes that need to snap out of it - any one of us could be affected, so we should all learn more and talk more about mental health.”  


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