I wrote a blog post on how society can do better when it comes to talking about mental health, which can be found here. In particular, in that blog I talked about how we put too much responsibility on the people suffering to talk about their mental health. I want to use this blog post to expand on that point, and talk more generally on why it is not enough to simply talk about mental health. This is because throughout my time at university and even recently, I felt that when it came to raising awareness of the topic of mental health, too much focus was on how we should talk more about mental health. Whilst it is good for more people to open up about their mental health, I feel that there are flaws in relying on this too much, which I discuss in this article.
First and foremost, I do want to emphasise that it is good to talk about mental health, and that there are benefits of talking about mental health. Mental health is a crucial part of overall health, yet it is often something that people are reluctant to talk about. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, however so many people struggle with it. Talking about mental health helps destigmatise mental illnesses and mental health issues, which is important. Furthermore, mental health is also about maintaining a positive state of wellbeing, therefore talking about mental health helps maintain positive mental health.
So even though talking about mental health is important it’s not enough on its own in my opinion. I will now give 3 reasons as to why I think this.
It’s hard to open up when you are struggling with your mental health
I am aware that taking more about mental health issues is more than just people opening up about their mental health struggles. However, it does play a big part. Therefore, usually when we say we should talk more about mental health, that indirectly implies that people who are struggling should open up more. But we need to appreciate that mental health issues can be quite sensitive for someone and hence it can be very hard for them to open up about them. When I was struggling with anxiety, there were times when even talking about it to someone felt like an impossible task in itself. At times, the idea of talking to anyone was harder than the anxious thoughts themselves. Furthermore, some people prefer to deal with mental health issues on their own, and they don’t find it helpful to talk about what they are feeling. Either way, it is not easy for someone to open up if they are struggling, and we shouldn’t force them to either.
There is not enough support available
Talk and action are two completely different things. Talk about mental health all you want, but it would be pointless if concrete action is not taken. When I mean concrete action, there needs to be more mental health support available and high-quality mental health services should be more easily accessible. There have been far too many instances I have heard of where someone has tried to seek support and they have either been put on an 8-month waiting list or have been told that they are not struggling “enough” to get help. If you go to the hospital with a broken leg, you wouldn’t expect to be put on an 8-month waiting list for treatment, or be told your leg isn’t broken enough to get help. So why should be accept the same for mental health problems? This may sound harsh, but why should we encourage people to be open about mental health and seek support if that support is not available?
We don’t do well when it comes to listening to other peoples mental health struggles
Again, this point may sound harsh but needs to be said. Two paragraphs above, I said that opening up about mental health struggles can be hard. Therefore, when someone gathers the courage to open up about their mental health struggles, the very least we can do is listen and try and engage with their struggles, even if we can’t help them. However, there have been too many instances where someone has opened up about their honest mental health struggles to others, only to be told that they need to “snap out of it” of that they are “speaking out to get attention”. Let me ask you this question, what message does this send to the person that opened up? They would feel judged and would be reluctant to open up again. When I was struggling with anxiety, I rarely received direct hurtful comments like these, but there were instances when people have tried to change the topic when I opened up about my struggles with anxiety, or they said how they would be there to talk when I needed it yet they never reached out again. It was certainly frustrating, and made me more and more reluctant to open up about my anxiety the next time. Ask yourself the question and answer it as honestly as possible, “Have I been a good listener when someone has opened up to me about their mental health problems, and have I done what I can to engage with their problem”. The message I want to get out is that we don’t realise that we are also doing lots of things wrong when it comes to listening to others talk about their mental health struggles.
Although we as individuals cannot make mental health services suddenly more accessible, there are things that we all can do to make it easier for individuals to talk about their mental health. I wrote a blog on ways we can help someone that is struggling. This can be found here, and it is extremely relevant, so I urge you all to have a read if you haven’t already. The key takeaway here is that instead of putting all the responsibility on individuals to talk about their mental health, lets take some responsibility ourselves in being good listeners, educating ourselves, and reaching out to people that may be struggling.
Apologies for the longer than usual post, and for being harsh at times. I would love to hear your thoughts, so comment on the comment section below!