Mental health awareness week should be mental health acceptance week.

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It’s mental health awareness week – I think the main issue is that everyone is well aware of mental illness, it’s being accepting of it that’s society’s issue. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more reassuring to see your friends post about how they also struggle with poor mental health, or those offering an ear to listen to your problems. But this means very little if everyone has fair access to mental health services, or if there is still a stigma surrounding the ‘ugly’ aspects of mental illness. It’s all very well and good that we have this week, but it’s not making enough of a change to help those who are suffering. Only £9 per person is spent on mental health per person who is affected by it. The fact that this equates to two coffees from an artisan coffee shop in the West End, proves my point that these mental health awareness days/week/month are nothing unless they’re bringing about significant change.

This year’s theme of kindness really epitomises how shallow this week is. It’s like people show that they care about mental health for this one week, but then after that they just don’t give a shit. And it’s the same with the government; they back these mental health awareness weeks, but won’t give those suffering with the proper help. The thing is, mental health help shouldn’t be coming from your friends and family. That doesn’t mean that they’re not able to supplement the recovery process, but there needs to be a core psychological support system in place. And people aren’t getting that, unless they’re paying for it privately. I feel that by supporting the week, the government feels it has done its bit.

There is no doubt that the way that we view mental health has changed – there is more of an awareness, but I think that this just isn’t enough. For a start, society might be more open to talking about depression and anxiety, but what about borderline personality disorder or bipolar? What about the symptoms that are more than just being sad, but instead it’s an eating disorder, or an attempted suicide?

I’ve always had problems with mental illness – even when I was young, I had compulsive thoughts about all the different things that could kill me, and I would obsessively check doors were closed, hair tongs were off, and the gas cooker wasn’t on (checking each of these five times as part of a ritual when leaving the house). After being assaulted nearly four years ago, it all got worse – I started to self-harm, I didn’t sleep properly, and when I finally got help, after sitting on my window ledge, ready to jump, I was prescribed a cocktail of drugs, but no counselling. After waiting for nearly two years, I received the counselling I needed, but after a perfect storm of shit situations, I tried to take my own life last year. I was kept in the hospital for two days, and then I was diagnosed with complex PTSD.

I’m in a very privileged position – I have an incredibly supportive network of friends and family, as well as having access to counselling. But so many people suffering don’t have this in place, so what needs to be done? The coronavirus pandemic has not only highlighted the issues with the current system in place for those suffering from mental illness, but the restrictions of lockdown will generate a whole new cohort of people experiencing poor mental health.

I’m very open about my poor mental health, and some may argue that maybe I’m too open. There’s nothing more awkward than slipping into a conversation that I got completely overwhelmed to the point that I tried to end my life, but it shouldn’t be. I’m all for supporting each other through poor mental health. Some of the best friends I’ve made came from being open about my mental health, and bonding over similar struggles. I’m not shitting on the concept of a mental health awareness week, but it needs to have substance, more than people supporting this for a week, and just accepting that contribution is fine.

It shouldn’t just be those with poor mental health that need to advocate for change – everyone does. Considering mental health affects one in four people, someone you love will suffer from it – so fight for that person. Don’t just be kind – campaign for those who are struggling.

Bekah x

Bekah @ TEWP x

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