In May this year I was bemoaning the fact that it was national mental health month … but in the US! “Why not everywhere?” I cried. So I am very happy that 10th October is Mental Health Day and therefore an opportunity to shine a light on problems such as anxiety, stress, panic attacks, depression and so on. We all need good mental health to live our lives but we can all suffer periods of poor mental health where we feel life is difficult and we feel unable to cope .... and worse. The charity MIND suggests 1 in 4 people will suffer mental health issues.
So reaching out for support would be easy … or so you would think? The Mental Health Foundation suggests that shame and stigma associated with mental health is still resulting in discrimination so we can find it difficult securing work, relationships, decent housing and can feel excluded from society. So rather than speaking out, we hide and this just worsens existing mental health problems, trapping us in a cycle of illness and despair.
As an occupational psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist, I am fascinated by the concept of shame and stigma and how can it be overcome. We need to normalise, NOW, the discourse around mental health, so we can confidently to seek help, free from discrimination. In my own case, its taken me years to seek help for my own anxiety and depression that I realise now was brought on by own childhood trauma. I only feel safe admitting it because I sense mental health is beginning to move higher up the public agenda. So as I confess to my own struggles I want to add my own voice to the mental health debate.
Admitting your own vulnerability and asking for help is tough. I feel shame and embarrassment. I don't tell anyone about my mental health issues, such is my worry about being judged and possibly rejection by colleagues, friends, relatives. And yet - and here's the conundrum - as a therapist and as a friend, when others open up to me, I offer unlimited support! I admire their bravery, offer soothing words, feel a connection and intimacy at a deep and psychological level... a human level. Brene Brown writes, “vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me” suggesting we love to see vulnerability in other people but afraid to let them see it in us.
Has the shame and stigma that has traditionally blighted mental health started, at last, to reduce? Last year when the Royals and celebrities promoted the Heads Together campaign I became a huge supporter. I loved the publicity as I saw the potential to normalise the debate around mental health issues and, at last, shine a light even into the darkest of corners. This is all so very welcome! But the resulting social media backlash, dubbing the Royals and celebrities as "over-privileged whingers" who shouldn’t open up about their mental health issues, halted my air-punching delight. So the promotion of mental health issues became very quickly overshadowed by the cult of celebrity and the "who do they think they are" – a kind of mental health snobbery! Doesn’t this just prove that shame and stigma still remains hugely prevalent – dark and brooding – ready to pounce at any time? Probably. However I still want to believe that all publicity – whether good and bad – will be a force for change.
I sincerely hope we will continue to have a grown up debate about mental health. Its only then the shame, stigma and discrimination be eradicated for good.
Do you think there is still shame and stigma around mental health issues? Do let me know your thoughts.