Alice Sullivan is a teacher and writer based in Prague. She writes about mental health, intersectional feminism, and travel.
Being Kind When It Comes to Mental Health Awareness
There have been a lot of awareness days for mental health lately, which should be a really positive thing. Mental Health Awareness Day and Suicide Prevention Day are very close to each other, and the entirety of mental health advocate twitter was sharing resources on how to approach your mentally ill friend.
My feed was flooded with people telling others to “just be kind” and in theory, that is a lovely message. However, you can be kind until you are blue in the face and mental illness would still be a major issue in our society.
Being kind is just basic human decency. It’s not difficult to do and yet this message was being spread across social media like it was something revolutionary. You shouldn't have to tell grown adults to not send abusive messages to each other. I tell the children I teach to be kind when they aren’t sharing their toys.
Being kind in this context means what? Don’t tell people to kill themselves on the internet. It seems pretty obvious to me that no one should do that anyway. Of course, there is a place for relatable mental health art and positivity, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
Being kind in this context means what? Don’t tell people to kill themselves on the internet.
Mental health awareness is becoming more mainstream, but the things publicly spoken about are just the tip of the iceberg. We are "aware" of mental illnesses, but in my experience, there isn't much sympathy or understanding when it gets too difficult.
Being kind doesn’t prepare us for dealing with a loved one during a manic episode. We can maybe recognise some signs of anxiety or depression, but what about someone triggered by PTSD? There are still people that think it is acceptable to call themselves OCD because they like their desks to be tidy or to call someone bipolar as an insult (probably to a “crazy” ex-girlfriend).
Access to services is really the main problem. If you care about supporting mental health, you need to advocate for this access. Depending on your country, access to medication, and even an appointment for accurate diagnosis may be an issue.
If you struggle, will you be supported by your workplaces or will you have access to financial aid if you become unable to work? It is in these situations unfortunately where people might stop being kind. You will be told your time off work is just laziness and all the kind support might start to dwindle away.
My experience with mental health care in the UK has been mainly sitting on waiting lists. I was eventually signed off work by a doctor due to my depression and anxiety. I was unable to work, but I was so embarrassed by people finding out it was my mental health. I downplayed my own problems by saying I was just stressed if anyone asked how I was. I got to a point where I couldn’t face getting out of bed and I would have panic attacks regularly, but I couldn’t admit that.
While I was signed off work, my boss called me continuously. She was pressuring me to find out when I would be returning and I felt highly uncomfortable discussing my symptoms with her. They were heightened by the toxic work environment, but I have suffered from mental illnesses for as long as I can remember.
Recently, my therapist actually asked me to think of a time where I felt secure in myself and I couldn’t answer her. My brain is not a fun place to be, but I have only recently started to admit that.
Limited Access to Therapy and Coping Skills
I neglected my mental health needs for a long time due to the stigma. For over a year, I thought I was coping if I made it through a day without crying. I was not. While I was signed off, it took a lot of support from my closest friends to get me out of the house. She took me out for my birthday and I got dressed up for the first time in months. However, someone reported a picture of me to my boss and I was told that isn’t allowed while I was signed off work. When I decided that the work environment was toxic and I couldn’t go back, I was told I wasn’t allowed to go for interviews while signed off work. All of the activities that aided in my recovery were not allowed, so I quit.
I had medication, but no therapy for a long time. I was put on a short course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), but it just wasn't right for me and being limited to 10 weeks just seems silly when you are working through a lifetime of problems.
I accessed paid therapy online because the waiting list was too long for the NHS, and I knew I wanted to eventually move away. I probably won't be able to afford it much longer, due to my hours being reduced, thanks to COVID-19. Therapy is just generally really hard to access and that needs to change.
Things You Can Do to Improve Mental Health Awareness
- Listen to your mentally ill friends (just listen; don’t try to fix their problems).
- Stop using mental illnesses you don’t have to describe behaviour.
- Stop shaming people for their symptoms (yes, my room is messy; I am depressed.).
- Sign petitions that could make a difference (The UK government petition website brings them to parliament for debate when they reach a certain number of signatures).
- Write to your MP or Mayor or whoever is relevant advocating for better mental health services.
- Donate to funds for therapy and mental health support (you usually see these boosted on social media).
- Educate yourself on the signs of suicide and look out for your loved one.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.