Do We Still Need To Raise Awareness?
This question is very much one that has entered my mind and seemingly many other campaigners minds over the last year, but particularly last week with it being World Mental Health Day.
For me there is a lot to unpack as part of this question, so I am going to do my best to cover the points important and relevant to me. So feel free to disagree.
Have we reached a state of awareness?
I feel through a number of media campaigns and a lot of ground work by charities/ volunteers, there is much greater awareness of mental health now. Seemingly most people know 'mental health' is a thing and it affects a lot of people. Seemingly most people are particularly aware of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and OCD.
Who is 'we'?
When I, and other campaigners talk about awareness being raised. I think it is important to question who we are talking about and how we have come to that conclusion.
I do 100% find people I speak to know more about mental health and have a desire to support others. However, I am also aware that I talk openly about mental health and my own experience, so the people that are around me are generally more informed or have a desire to be.
There are still many, many people that are not aware, that have a very 'traditional' mindset when it comes to mental health, and are not educated on this.
Mental health is real, but I'm good...
I feel this is something to consider. Think back to the times have you spoken to someone about mental health, or a related point. Now consider, was that conversation about mental health in a general sense? Or was it about those of you in the conversation?
Personally, I find people are still very guarded and unwilling to talk about their own experience of mental health (positive or negative) and they will talk about it in a general sense. For me, this shows we still, to some extent, hold those 'traditional' values/ views that our mental health is something to be ashamed of or hidden. That is a cultural change we still need to make, and conversation starter campaigns do have a role to play here.
--Image taken by Dexter Morgan Photography--
Terminology and education
I have seen many campaigns and projects that use terms such as: mental fitness, mental strength, mental toughness. Personally, I feel if they support and empower conversation then that's great, but they add to the problem that is; not understanding what mental health is and that it is about more than illness.
Implying that these 'positive' affirmation aspects of our mental health are not 'mental health' increases the stigma associated with mental health.
Should we be doing more than raising awareness?
Personally, yes I think we should and I too get annoyed at times when I see another awareness campaign, rather than an announcement of a new service. But there are ways to put forward our thoughts and desires for more services. Belittling volunteers and smaller campaigners is not something I like to see, it is not want being a 'campaigner' means to me.
If you don't like the campaign, or its not for you, find one that is and support that. Just because one charity, project, campaign isn't for you, that doesn't mean it's bad. There are still so many people that don't know about mental health illnesses, symptoms or support.
The fact I do and may be you do too, means we are lucky. We have received education and support. Maybe it was slow, or could have been better, but we had it. There are still people today struggling with illnesses and symptoms that they don't understand. Seeing people trashing conversation and initial support campaigns is not going to help that person come forward to seek support.
While I would like to see more happening, I ask myself, "is this campaign likely helping someone?" My answer for all the resent 'awareness campaigns' is yes! Is it helping me? No, but it is helping someone.
Not every campaign is for you! So find one (or more) you want to support, or start one yourself. There are amazing campaigners out their that focus on different aspects of mental health and on the support/ services available. Some of them have even presented their campaigns to local and national government. If a big 'conversation starter' campaign is not for you, support those campaigners/ campaigns that YOU connect with instead.
It is true, mental health is now a political talking point. If you want to see more support for mental health services engage with you local charities, communities, Politicians and representatives. Make sure they see the importance of mental health services. When it's time to vote, make sure you look at the candidates views and their voting history for health and education.
Some of the recent campaigns have taken a bit of a hit online, some of the points I agree with, some I don't. Here is a quick summary of my thoughts:
I think the conversation starter campaigns are still very important.
I think there are good online tools to be signposted to.
I believe, at the very least, people need quicker initial meetings/ appointments/ assessments.
Many of the online resources are not easy to find or understand the first time through. Having that initial meeting with someone who can say "this could be useful, try some of these" or "you may find talking to... would be helpful" would make a lot of difference.
One to one ongoing therapy from the NHS is always going to have a waiting list
That is one reason why starting conversations early, before symptoms escalate, could help so much.
Acknowledge conversations will not 'cure' your illness. But it could help you understand and manage them/ it, providing a positive impact on your life.
We need to ask more from our representatives for mental health services. We elect them, make sure you choose someone who shares your values.
Those are my thoughts. You are welcome to disagree, I am not saying I am right, they are just my personal thoughts.
I do encourage you to look at different campaigns, particularly ones local to you. Local campaigns and projects often need support and their impact can be more direct, if you want to see 'real' change.
I hope you had a great World Mental Health Day last week, and you are keeping those conversations going.