For the mental health conversation to continue developing effectively, we need to ensure it includes everybody.
– Guest feature by Niall Underwood.
It’s fair to say that as a society, we’ve made some progress in recent years when it comes to opening up conversations surrounding mental health. ‘Generation Z’ is much better than any of its predecessors at discussing issues relating to its psychological and emotional wellbeing; for all its faults, social media has provided an open forum, within which people can say ‘I’m not OK’ and seek the support of their peers. Very recently, our Government appears to have tuned into these fresh, dynamic conversations, responding with the appointment of Jackie Doyle-Price MP in October 2018 as Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention – a newly created role, believed to be the world’s first of its kind.
From this discussion, two words ring out clearly: ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. It’s true that many of us experience depression and anxiety, and it’s excellent if The System is becoming more supportive, but what about all of the other mental health conditions that exist? Who’s talking about personality disorders, eating disorders, dissociative disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD or schizophrenia? If I’m feeling in danger of becoming depressed, I know that I can go to see my GP or my psychotherapist to seek support with it. If I’m experiencing an exacerbated period of anxiety, I know that I can inform my employer, buy some Kalms and reach out to a friend to chat about what may be causing this. But what do I do if I’m experiencing a more delicate mental episode? In a country where – according to gov.uk – three out of every 100 people will experience psychosis in their lifetime, isn’t it time to open up this conversation to include more than two issues?
Ok, so, we’ve agreed that it would be counterproductive to exclude severe mental illness from our inclusive mental health discourse. Now that we’ve addressed the subject matter, we need to look at who it is that has a voice. Naturally, LGBTQI+ and BAME communities have their own experiences in this field. The charity Stonewall published in a 2017 report that 45% of trans young people had attempted to take their own life. According to mentalhealth.org, Afro-Caribbean people living in the UK are less likely than other ethnic groups to suffer from common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety. However, Afro-Caribbean people are also up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with and admitted to hospital for Schizophrenia. Is it possible that, on the grounds of race/ethnicity and (somewhat ironically) severe mental illness, this conversation has excluded the very people who most need to be in it? And, beyond the conversation itself, how far will authorities such as Jackie Doyle-Price MP go to ensure the effectiveness of their strategies at understanding and tackling the issue of mental health within minorities?
As with many mental health issues, simple steps can be made by doing one thing; talking. Any changes we’ve seen over the past few years in the way mental health is approached by schools, media, brands, families – all of those have been initiated by real people facing real issues and talking about them. Social media gives people space to promote any number of things, many of which are thought to be detrimental to our mental health. It’s up to us to decide whether we use Instagram to bully and body shame our peers, or to ask for and offer help. It may feel difficult to Snapchat a friend saying ‘I’m not OK’, but it’s important to remember that when you do, you’re widening the conversation and helping everyone. The private Snapchat you send to your bestie is a public appeal from us to the Government, and it’s one that says ‘we’re not OK’.