Mental Health Awareness Week.

Just a thought.

Before I begin, I want to make it extremely clear that I don’t at all think I’m a councillor or therapist, that I’m trained in mental health or how to combat that feeling. The thoughts that I’m sharing are purely my own opinion, from my own experiences and my own views.

As Mental Health Awareness week draws to a close, I didn’t want this to go unnoticed on my feed. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to write, and still, as I’m writing don’t quite know what it is I’m wanting to say.

I feel over the years awareness for mental health has become much more apparent within our society. Over the past couple of days I’ve read several articles focusing around depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar etc, which when I think back to when I was at school 5 years ago, mental health awareness week wasn’t known to us. I’m not even sure if it was a thing, but if it was I’d like to think school would have educated us about the impact of those feelings. Perhaps shed some light on what is typically deemed a dark subject.

In fact, now I come to think about it the first time I was ever educated about mental health and the consequences of this was in my second year of sixth form, around about 3 years ago.

But maybe that’s why we weren’t ever taught about it? Because it is dark, and as children we’re mollycoddled, wrapped in bubblewrap and cotton wool, because we don’t want these dark thoughts or realities to taint our outlook on life? I don’t know I’m just speculating. But rather than this being a morbid post about how we should be more aware of mental health, I actually want to focus on this recognition in a much more positive light.

At University for the final semester of my degree I decided to choose a history based literature module and learn about First World War literature. In all honesty I picked this because I was much better at the history side of my joint honours degree as opposed to the English lit side, and thought it would be easier for me to get a better grade if I play to my strengths. But I took far more away from this module than a first in my final module.

If we go waaaay back to 1918 (after the end of the war) so many men suffered from PTSD, depression and anxiety. Naturally, this is extremely understandable. But their feelings were never truly recognised as mental health issues. PTSD was known as ‘shell-shock,’ of course being in a turbulent and traumatic environment for 4 years the same person who left his wife and children was never going to return, and no one ever should have expected them too. Whether it be seeing their comrades die, living in conditions that only seem feasible when we see them on the big screen or being shot at, gassed or bombed for 4 years straight, men were expected to be men and get on with it. It should have been expected that the same people that went off to save our country were never going to return with the same glimmer of hope in their eyes they left with.

I remember we read a book called ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker. It was a fictional story but based on true events of Barker’s grandfather who was being treat for ‘shell-shock’ in the CraigLockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. In the novel one scientist wanted to treat ‘shell shocked’ soldiers with electro-therapy. Pain would be inflicted to try and ‘cure’ these brave men. It blows my mind that there was no understanding from the environment they were in, how they’d now be effected for life. And if that didn’t work they were encouraged to do the ‘honourable thing’ and kill themselves.

Fast-forward, 102 years later, I’m glad that we can talk and have an understanding of different mental health disorders. I’m glad that these feelings that these men and women had are now recognised, but even still, as I said were they recognised as heavily as they are now even 5 years ago? Should we talk about mental health disorders in school? Would this prevent countless suicides amongst teenagers?

Right now we’re living in another turbulent, unprecedented time, where again mental health is likely to be at an all-time low. Unfortunately, no one truly knows what’s going on in the world right now, (well actually I take that back, I imagine someone somewhere will have a pretty good idea of whats going on) but as for the general public we’re kinda in limbo.

I don’t know about anyone else but I feel like we’re waiting for something to happen. Like this period of lockdown is the calm before the storm. Perhaps another recession? Another period of economical uncertainty? Whatever it is, it’s guaranteed not to be good and that’s why it is so important to be aware of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and be able to talk about these openly.

One thing that I’ve learnt over the years, and more so during my time in lockdown is just how important it is to be kind. You never truly know what someone else is going through, how they are feeling or what insecurities they may have, that you could unknowingly trigger through a throwaway comment. During this time in lockdown, there have been thousands of deaths, millions of job losses, and complete and utter uncertainty for the future. As much as it is drilled into us now to check on those we love, as suicide rates have recently soared, do we? Are we kind to one another? Do we check in with our friends or family as much as we like to think we do?

Something that recently struck a nerve in me was seeing Katie Hopkins tweet about Jesy Nelson. I watched Nelson’s BBC Documentary ‘Odd One Out’ at least 4 times, to try and wrap my head around how people can have such damaging opinions on someone they don’t know, to the point where they are publicly sharing negative comments without any consequence. Nelson, even admitted in her documentary that because of a tweet Hopkins had directed at her, it was the straw that pushed her towards suicide.

Yeah, we probably all at one time have scrolled down our social media apps and have an opinion of someone else that isn’t particularly nice or pleasant, whether it’s disagreeing with a status or thinking they posted a crude photo. We’re human, we have opinions, but do we need to share these knowing they could mentally damage another person? It’s inhumane to project vile comments constantly and publicly onto someone you don’t know, to the point they want to take their own life. During lockdown Hopkins had again tweeted about Nelson in a very negative and slanderous way, with no consequence for her action, ignoring the feelings Jesy had bravely and courageously opened up about to help others in her documentary. Perhaps she feels her opinion is necessary, but I’m sure millions of people will beg to differ.

But the way I like to think about it, is that, that’s one person. One person who isn’t being kind. As much as I’d like to think there was only one person out their trolling others, projecting negativity onto people’s lives, I’d be extremely naive. But the number of people who rallied round Jesy, was overwhelming. This idea that good conquers evil was actually being displayed in a very modern form and it was amazing to see. People we recognising depression openly and in a positive way.

So what did I take away from this? Well, I know that if I do my part to check up on my loved ones, to check up on my friends, my old work colleagues, my neighbours then at least I’ve tried to minimise the number of unkind people in the world. I know my friends, my family, my neighbours and my work colleagues are all kind people as well, so if each and everyone of them check up on their friends, their families, their loved ones etc, then the number of unkind people in the world is minimised even more.

I realise this is a very optimistic way of looking at a very dark topic, but sometimes people just need to know that they’re loved, that someone cares about them and that everything is going to be okay. So be kind to everyone, smile at a stranger as you (socially distance) pass them in the street and for those of you who don’t feel okay right now, know that it’s okay, not to be okay.

102 years ago men and women were shamed for displaying how they felt. I’m sure they now look down on society and are glad that the way they felt is finally being recognised as an acceptable and understandble way to feel. Stay Safe.

Lots of Love,

Emily x