It’s hard to gauge how much progress we’ve made when it comes to mental health awareness. My work involves me regularly talking about it, I am fortunate enough to live in a city full of support services for it, and my circle of friends are incredibly “woke” to it. We fine tune our social media platforms and news outlets to show us the information we are interested in, and this can distort our perceptions of what is happening in wider society (hello the great Brexit/ Trump shock of 2016). So in turn, my social media feeds consist largely of mental health discussion (alongside emotionally charged animal stories via The Dodo).
The words “self care” have blown up our Instagram feeds for the past year. Candles and bubble baths have been thrown under the bus in divisive conversations surrounding what constitutes self care. Personally I think that whatever pursuit you partake in that involves you spending some time decompressing and looking after yourself is a positive one, and if you do it with a Jo Malone burning in the background then more power to you.
Mental health conditions cover a vast spectrum. We have certainly made positive steps towards acceptance and understanding of commonplace issues such as anxiety and depression. They are easier for us to understand. So many of us will experience (or are currently experiencing) periods of either or both during our lives. These conditions can be a reaction to personal circumstances, and can take on a more intense form of emotions that we are familiar with, namely worry and sadness. We’ve all felt worry at some point, we’ve all felt sad at some point, so we can find it easier to empathise with these conditions.
It’s the more complex conditions that we must strive to accept and understand. Conditions that cause erratic behaviour, uncomfortable interactions, sometimes hospitalisation. Conditions that are not situational, that are very much chemical, and require more than acts of self compassion to fix. Conditions that have been demonised, labelled as “schizo”, “psycho”, “mental”, “crazy”.
It’s the eating disorders, the borderline personality disorders, the bi polar disorders. Psychosis. Schizophrenia. Suicidal thoughts. The conditions we can feel intimidated by, because we still do not fully understand the intricacies. Conditions that are still hugely stigmatised due to negative representations in film, TV and the media.
When I was a teenager sixteen years ago, I didn’t know that what I was feeling had medical names. Now we talk about anxiety and depression with comparatively greater ease. So although there is still so much work for us all to do in ending mental health stigma, it doesn’t feel completely out of sight.