October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and charities around the world are drawing attention once again to the stigma around mental health and our combined efforts toward dispersing it.
Looking back, there has been so much progress in the last seventy years.
We have gone from treating mental health with violent therapies and shutting people away in asylums where they were kept as society’s dirty secret to treatment in the community that focuses on talk therapy and rehabilitation.
The way we talk about mental has changed too – our collective language shifting from a focus on victimization to truth and empowerment, terms like ‘committed suicide’ being replaced with ‘died by suicide’ and ‘was the victim of an eating disorder’ to ‘in eating disorder recovery.’
The rise of inclusive, accessible and convenient mental health support through apps like Calm and Headspace is also making managing anxiety and depression normal and reasonable, something that can be talked about over coffee or with co-workers rather than hidden in the dark.
All of this gives me tremendous hope for our future and makes me proud of all the work that we have done so far, but I also know we need to realistic about the current mental health situation in our country.
When I began working in schools, the data said that 1 in 10 children aged 5 to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health condition. As of July 2020, the charity Young Minds reported that new data shows it is now 1 in 6. This statistic can seem initially disheartening, but I am deciding to see it as motivational.
To me, it shows that all the work we are doing in schools teaching children and young people to speak up about their mental health is working. More children are getting access to the help that they need and more mental health professionals are identifying what children need early on. What this statistic shows me is not that more children are suffering, but fewer children are suffering in silence.
Since 1 in 3 mental health problems in adulthood are directly linked to adverse childhood experiences, this gives me hope for the adults of tomorrow too. As a counsellor, I have seen over and over again how a missed mental health problem in childhood leads to trauma that festers in adulthood. The fact that more children are being identified now as having mental health problems will hopefully lead to early intervention, treatment, support and much healthier adults.
The numbers don’t lie, and 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. How many of those adults struggling could have benefitted from learning as a child to express their feelings, to manage their emotional well-being and grow their own resilience?
At The Lily-Jo Project, we believe everyone deserves this knowledge and we are fighting to make sure as many people as possible receive it.
So we have not yet beat back the stigma surrounding mental health and there are so many people currently struggling who need our help and support, especially as we know that not all children with mental health problems currently get access to NHS care.
Yet I am hopeful about the future. I believe that we can all be part of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and support others.
This is why the work we do matters so much, why it matters when you ask someone how they are and let them speak without judgement, why it matters when you are honest about your well-being and needs. When we stay silent, we feed the stigma and when we feed the stigma, we cut off support.
Last year, 5,219 suicides were reported in the UK. At The Lily-Jo Project, we believe that we can all contribute to bringing that number down. We can all work to speak up, support others, and reduce the stigma.
Here are my top tips for how can be part of it.
Eliminating the Stigma: What We Can Do
Share your truth
Mental health is part of our overall well-being, just as important as our physical or spiritual well-being. When we are hurt, if we break our arm, we don’t hesitate in seeking out medical support. When we feel overwhelming anxiety or other mental health problems, sometimes we hesitate to ask for health and that is purely to do with the stigma surrounding mental health.
It is normal to feel anxiety that people will not understand us when we are honest about our mental health struggles, but sharing with others or a medical professional can set us on a path to feeling much better. When someone asks the question: “How are you?” Let’s try to be honest, rather than responding with the classic: “I’m fine.” No one deserves to be trapped by stigma and to feel as if they cannot share their feelings honestly.
Just like how we listen to our bodies to assess how well they are (for instance, if you feel like you are getting a cold, you might get an early night or drink lots of orange juice for the vitamin C). We need to treat our mental health the same way. We need to ask ourselves: am I doing what I need to do to keep myself mentally well?
Sleep and rest have a huge impact on our mental well-being. If we are not resting, if we are letting ourselves get burnt out on work, if we are not getting adequate sleep, we are more likely to be vulnerable to mental health problems like depression. Treat your mind like any other part of your body and aim to keep it well! When we support our own mental health with a regular routine of rest and wellbeing checks then we lessen the likelihood of us getting to a crisis stage where we become so unwell that it impacts our ability to live our lives normally.
Supporting other people’s mental health is so often about being there for people when they are struggling and giving them what they need. It’s kind and polite to listen to a person’s struggles and give compassionate, affirming responses like: “I’m sorry that this is happening to you” or “do you want to tell me more about it?”
What is often unhelpful is giving responses that focus on action such as “have you tried meditation?” or “you need to get more sleep,” because that often makes the person feel like their mental health troubles are inconvenient and they should simply fix them as quickly as possible, and their failure to fix themselves is their own fault.
You can always ask someone: “What would help you feel a little bit better today?” or “what can I do for you today that might help?” and be guided by their response. Support can be so many things! It could be a cup of tea or a hug, or it might be that just by listening and asking, you have given someone exactly what they needed.
Speak up and stop stigma
One of the best things we can do for ourselves and others is work towards normalising conversations about mental health and it has never been easier to do this. Conversations about mental health happen frequently in movies, in the news or on TV. We can be honest with our children about mental health, we can call out stigma when we see it and we can stop stigma by refusing to stay silent about mental health.
Why not share this post today about World Mental Health day on your social media, to send the message to those who follow you that you are a person who will speak up about mental health? You could also help stop stigma by contributing to the work of organisations or charities that support people’s mental health.
Remember – we ALL have mental health. This World Mental Health Day, let’s work together to end stigma in this country and send the message: Our mental health matters.
Further Resources on Mental Health & Eliminating the Stigma
If you found this article helpful, check out these additional resources and support.
- Resources and support from The Lily-Jo Project’s self-help resource (www.thelilyjoproject.com/#help)
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, Back to Basics: 4 Key Ways to Maintain Good Mental Health at Home
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Friend to Someone Struggling With Mental Health
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, Suicide Awareness – How to Help a Friend When They are Feeling Helpless
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, Facilitating Conversations with Children About Mental Health
About the Author: Lily-Jo
Lily-Jo is a qualified counsellor, counselling supervisor, and senior coach at Unstoppable Life Coaching. She is also the founder of mental health organisation, The Lily-Jo Project, which specialises in online digital wellbeing resources for children, teens and adults of all ages.