I realise that I am posting on a day other than my usual Monday and Thursday slots. Today, however, is a day that needs to be brought to the forefront of discussion. Today is the 10th of October and is marked in the calendar as World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of and broaden the dialogue surrounding mental health and to hopefully address the negative stigmas attached to it.
Mental Health In The Context Of The UK Population
The truth is we must understand mental health problems before we can answer the question “HOW do we address it?” The truth is that, statistically, one in four people are likely to have issues regarding mental health over the next year. Most of those people will, again statistically, be young people. So what we are saying is that approximately 25% of the UK population is likely to have mental health issues over the next year, the majority of them being young people. A statistic even more alarming, though, is that 28% of UK residents would be unwilling to talk about issues regarding their mental health and the mental health of others. That is extremely alarming to me. Nearly one third of the British population is unwilling to talk about something one quarter of the population has – there is something terribly wrong there!
So, what does that mean? So many people will be and are going through mental health issues in our country. It is predicted that, by the year 2020, major depression will be the second most common health issue in Britain behind heart disease. It appears we are approaching a mental health epidemic in Britain and someone seriously needs to sit up and ask the question, when are we going to talk about this?
What Is It Like To Suffer From Mental Health Problems?
I can only put mental health into a context where I can understand and relate to it. After suffering from an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) I have suffered terribly with depression. I have seen councilors and neuropsychologists to help me with my issues; I have tried more holistic methods such as mindfulness thinking and meditation classes. Finally, six years after the ABI, I am at a place where I am reasonably well balanced in terms of my mental health.
I am not fully balanced though. It is something like walking a tightrope, lose your balance ever so slightly and you can take a massive fall (It is lucky I always have the safety net of my family there to catch me). People are never aware of mental health, not really. It is that problem and a perception that people with depression are having a bad day or feeling sorry for themselves that hampers the potential discourse surrounding the subject. For anyone that doesn’t understand or has never experienced issues with something like depression or the myriad of other mental health issues, the paragraph below (in a very dark manner) will explain what it felt like for me to suffer day in, day out, with depression.
“Depression is cancer of the soul. I still see a neuropsychologist regularly to try and fight against the parasite that riddles my brain; stabbing at my insecurities, whispering nasty, vindictive things about who I am and the way I am, the voices that don’t want me to succeed and seems to hold the positive voices as hostage with a gag stuffed down their throat. It is the thing that locks all the positive thoughts and emotions; optimism, love, hope, self-belief, confidence in a cell with no windows.” (Written by myself approximately two years ago).
Media Representation Of Mental Health Problems
We often see in mainstream media such as the news, film and TV a representation of mental health issues which depicts the extreme repercussions and effects they have on people’s lives. People so depressed they are self-harming or committing suicide, murderers who were schizophrenic or bipolar. We see the extreme consequences of these illnesses but what is never addressed are the issues everyday people are having regarding mental illness and mental health problems – that the person you sit opposite to in the office may be on medication for a mental health issue that they live with, manage as best they can and live with negative feelings and thought patterns every day rarely occurs to most of us and gets very little air time in terms of media coverage as it is not shocking enough. What is shocking in my opinion, though, is the number of people in our lives who are likely to be suffering from this kind of issue.
What becomes more frustrating for people in that situation is the blasé nature in which objective social commentators seem to address their condition. As we move forwards into the future, the Internet plays an increasingly larger role in the influence it has on the way that we are thinking. Let’s not beat around the bush, the media we consume plays a large role in influencing the way the general population thinks. What has really started to upset me is the emergence of what I like to call “the sickening meme” (two examples of these can be found at the end of this paragraph. Maybe I’m negative but hey!). With social networking playing an ever-expanding part in people’s lives, both socially and professionally, it allows people to show their creativity and promote their creative works to a large audience of people. Now this, I am all for. However, it becomes increasingly frustrating when people address issues and over simplify them. In doing this, creating a meme with a nice picture and a sickening quote that overly simplifies an extremely complex issue. While you are being creative and your work is very impressive, you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem, in over-simplifying the discourse that surrounds a complex issue. This helps to minimalise the discussion around issues of mental health as it makes it seem as though the solution to issues such as depression and mental health conditions are easy ones when THEY ARE NOT. I realise that memes such as these are not intended specifically for people with mental health problems, but people suffering from those problems see these pieces of creativity and they feel worse, they feel isolated, as they start to ask the question, “Why can’t I pull myself together?” It makes them feel more and more as though they are failures.
Mental Health In Relation To ABI
For people with ABI’s, the reasoning behind depression post-injury can be so varied because an ABI changes so much in our lives; our physical abilities, our cognitive abilities and mental capacities, it can stop you from finding, keeping, even being able to work, it can change personality traits, it can make it so that relationships cannot be developed or maintained, it can ruin careers, ruin lives! There is some academic thought that it could come from a biological reaction to the trauma itself – I do not necessarily agree. I think if we look at all of those things I listed previously, what they have in common is loss. I think the depression post brain injury is us mourning our loss and adjusting to a new sense of self and realising that we have to be someone new and find new ways of doing regular things to be able to get by and live a regular life.
Ways ABI Patients Can Regain Control
Fighting depression post-ABI can be a difficult task. It is incredibly important though as something like depression can be as debilitating as a physical disability. The key is to find ways to fight those negative voices that can be so influential and powerful in our brains. So now I am going to list a few key ways (some I may have mentioned in previous posts) that helps me fight depression after my injury.
- Exercise – A simple one but very effective. Doing something as simple as going for a brisk walk for an hour each day will produce endorphins, opiate like neurotransmitters (chemicals that pass on signals from one neuron to the next) that come from the pituitary gland and spinal chord, and other parts of your brain and nervous system. Endorphins are often produced during periods of stress, fear and pain and mostly interact with the receptors of cells found in regions of the brain that suppress pain as well as controlling our emotional levels. The release of endorphins can give your mood a real lift, leading to the term “the runner’s high”, meaning a feeling of euphoria post-exercise.
- Holistic Methods – These methods can often be scoffed at but I found them to be very effective. Practices such as the one I used, mindfulness meditation, is aimed at really paying attention to where you are, in the present and being aware of your thoughts and where they lead. As well as this, mindfulness if done in a specific location can allow you to really be aware of the natural world as it is. The intention is to really come to terms with yourself and your presence in this world and can be really effective in instilling a positive thought process, which will improve your mental health and your wellbeing in general.
- Recording & Celebrating Your Successes – I have talked in previous posts about targeting small achievable goals. One of the things I am not sure I put enough emphasis on was recording those goals and your victories. When I was recovering from my ABI, I made a diary to record the things I had achieved. This enables you in darker times, when the negative thoughts get overwhelming, to look back over your successes and see what YOU have achieved. The things that YOU did. It was all your work! What’s more celebrate those achievements even if they are small ones. To give yourself credit give you confidence and self esteem which will allow you to press on and go for bigger things. Those two things also play a big part in overcoming depression. If you do enough things and tell yourself enough “I ACHIEVED THAT” or “LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS I HAVE DONE”, that self affirmation is the kind of thing that allows the positive voices to shout over the negative ones.
The point I have tried to make with this post is that, while we now have one day to bring attention to mental health, there are people suffering with those kinds of issues every single day. One day or one week even, does not seem to be enough in my eyes. Why aren’t there, for example, trained social workers in schools? The person you went to talk to about issues such as depression when I was at school was a PE teacher who also taught PSHE. I have to ask, if young people are suffering with these issues as badly as recent studies suggest, WHY AREN’T WE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT??? Until we are all on the same page with regards to mental health problems and the kind of things that are required to overcome them such as:
- Easy access to trained councilors
- More education in schools
- a kinder and more accurate portrayal of mental health patients in the media as well as a less polarized depiction of the severity of mental health issues in general society.
- Finally, everyone being able to open up to each other and talk openly about how we feel.
Until we can provide this, then we are still going to be in the same place in the year 2020, asking ourselves how have this generation been allowed to get to this position? The middle of a mental health epidemic!
Now, I hope that this has been helpful. I think that these issues are all one that need to be addressed and talked about. I realise that some (maybe many) may disagree with what I am saying and my opinions on this subject. I have not written this as an inflammatory gesture, these are merely my opinions on the subject. If anyone has any criticism or issue with what I have written, don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter (@ABIblogger) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.