Mental Health Awareness Week
This week (13th-19th May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s an important week for an important topic that sits higher in our collective consciousness as we realise the importance of wellbeing. When a stigma exists, it can only be contested by open and honest facts. Let’s look at myths around mental health and wellbeing and answer it with the truth.
A few facts before we begin.
- 1 in 4 people in the UK will develop and deal with a mental health issue in their lifetime. That’s about 17 million out of the estimated 66 million population of the UK.
- Problems are on the rise – there has a been a steady increase in reported mental health problems in the last thirty years.
- Women are more likely to be affected by a common mental illness, but men are more likely to commit suicide.
- Young people are particularly susceptible and we now know that mental health problems tend to start in early childhood.
- 23% of NHS activity is taken up by mental illness, but mental health trusts only receive 11% of funding.
MYTH: Mental health is not as important as physical health.
Poor mental health can affect physical health, and vice versa. Long-term and severe health conditions can cause anxiety and depression. Similarly having undue stress and anxiety over a long period of time can cause health conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ‘health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’
MYTH: People with mental health problems cannot work.
Mental health problems can be moderate to severe and anywhere in between. While there are people who cannot work due to the severity of these conditions, they can be managed to allow you to partake in the 9-5 grind. Likewise, there are people who might get ‘signed off’ for brief periods of time in order to reduce stress stimuli. Anxiety and depression can affect anyone, even those in high powered positions.
MYTH: Anti-depressants will alter my personality.
Anti-depressants are designed to enhance neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline and serotonin. These important chemicals help to relay messages between different areas of the brain. Mention anti-depressants in casual conversation and you might hear stories about a person who took them and went haywire. While there can be undesirable side effects such as decreased alternateness and sexual problems, that doesn’t mean you will experience them. Staying in contact with your GP and being honest about any side effects or worries is the best way forward, as there are different types of anti-depressants available.*
*Anti-depressants can be useful in the short term as they can help stabilise or lift your mood which can allow you to tackle the roots of anxiety and depression.
MYTH: People with mental health problems are violent, challenging or ‘other’.
‘He/She’s mental’. Having a mental health issue can come with an isolating stigma of instability. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, people with a severe mental health issue are more likely to victims of violence than perpetrators. It’s also important to remember that mental health issues can vary between common diagnoses such as anxiety and depression and less common, i.e. bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
MYTH: People get mental health problems due to personality traits or weakness.
I’ll say this once and I’ll say it once more. Mental health issues are NOT a weakness. It takes strength, commitment and dedication to get through a day, a week, a month or a year of mental health issues. In fact, a mental health issue can be caused be a whole range of factors such as: ‘childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect/social isolation or loneliness/experiencing discrimination and stigma/social disadvantage, poverty or debt/ bereavement (losing someone close to you)/ severe or long-term stress/having a long-term physical health condition unemployment or losing your job/homelessness or poor housing/ being a long-term carer for someone/drug and alcohol misuse/domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult/significant trauma as an adult, such as military combat, being involved in a serious incident in which you feared for your life, or being the victim of a violent crime.’ (Mind.org.uk)
MYTH: There’s nothing you can do to improve your mental wellbeing.
Mental health issues can be prevented, they can be managed and they can be overcome. Cultivating your sense of wellbeing is a good way to start. Exercise, nutrition, relationships, socialising, sleep, boundaries, creativity are all positive endeavours. If you want someone to talk to – we can help!