What, exactly, is mental health and why is it still largely a taboo subject?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, with it having been Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. It is vitally important to continue raising awareness of mental health issues and there has been a significant amount of much-needed coverage this week, via television, radio, and social media. However, I get a sense that mental health is still considered a taboo subject by many. Whilst that is understandable, it is a barrier which does need to be broken down.

As I’ve stated previously, I’m certainly not a medical expert when it comes to this. I’m merely someone who has had issues and chose to share those. It took me some time to do that and I believe this is the root cause of the problem – that there is still a stigma attached to discussing such issues and even identifying as someone who has mental health issues. Addressing this could be a little easier if we take a step back and consider just how many people suffer with mental health issues – I’m pretty confident it is the vast majority of us, rather than a select few.

We can start to chip away at the stigma by considering just what the term ‘mental health’ really means. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services ( link here ) describes mental health as:

Our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

The UK-based charity Mind ( link here ) states the following:

In many ways, mental health is just like physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it. Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. But if you go through a period of poor mental health, you might find the ways you’re frequently feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse. Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. They range from common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

I struggled when trying to find an NHS definition of mental health, though the national ‘No Health without Mental Health’ policy defines it as:

 A positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment. Levels of mental health are influenced by the conditions people are born into, grow up in, live and work in.

What I did find interesting is that the NHS homepage for mental health and wellbeing ( link here ), in addition to containing links to some great resources, including a mood self-assessment, mental wellbeing audio guides, and links to access help and support (including support for children and young people), references a variety of issues, such as stress, anxiety, fear, panic, low moods, sadness, depression, feeling lonely, grieving, anger, self-esteem, and bullying. This list influences my view that the ‘1-in-4’ statistic is inaccurate. I believe the vast majority of us have experienced some of these issues, possibly on a fairly frequent basis, and I therefore believe that the number affected by mental health issues is much greater than 1-in-4.

And so the stigma remains, possibly due to there being a commonly held view that admitting to having mental health issues is a sign of weakness. It took me a long time to muster up the courage to write and share my first YYCDI post just over a year ago, not just as I was concerned that some might see it as a sign of weakness, but also as I was concerned that people would think I was in a much worse situation than I was/am. I vividly remember that first post really upsetting my mum as she had no idea I was dealing with issues such as these. In previous posts I’ve stated that my own issues aren’t as severe as those which some will be suffering from. I’m not in the dark depths of depression, my anxiety could be worse (i.e. more severe and more permanent), and I could experience low periods much more frequently than I do. However, I still felt my issues were real enough to write about and share with others. I suspect that this is part of the reason why more people don’t open up – that they may question if they do have mental health issues, or that they feel they may be perceived as being in a much worse state than they actually are. I completely understand that but it is a shame that this may be preventing further conversations from taking place. We don’t have to be harboring suicidal thoughts, or feeling that there is absolutely nowhere to go in life, in order to open up about mental health issues. There are varying degrees to this, all worthy of discussion.

If you feel you have such issues, to any degree, and haven’t yet discussed them with anyone, please do consider it. I know it is a really difficult subject to talk about but I’m pretty confident that you’ll find you won’t be in a unique position. I know from experience that many, many people are affected by this to some extent, though very few of us actually reach out to find a friendly face to confide in. You might just be doing them a favour in addition to helping yourself (in fact, it is highly likely). We all need somebody to lean on. There might just be a song in that somewhere…

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you’re doing everything you’re able to in order to get by right now.

Take care and best wishes,

Mick

2 Comments

  1. This is so true Mick , I remember years ago when I first approached the doctor ( I ran away before I went in but my friend brought me back and made me stay ) I was amazed when the doctor told me he knew what I was experiencing and continued to explain it all , you could have knocked me over with a feather as I thought I was the only one in the world , because , like you say we don’t talk to anyone xx

    1. And how many others are in similar situations in thinking that? I’m willing to bet it’s a huge number. Take care. x

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