We’re all aware of mental health, so… job done?
The thing is, being aware of an issue doesn’t mean we’re even adequately equipped to deal with it (see also climate, pollution, political corruption, housing crisis, cost of living crisis…)
There’s a dichotomy of meaning when we talk about mental health; we might mean health as in wellbeing (the appropriate regulation of emotion, management of stress, self-actualisation and the like), and we might be talking about specific illnesses (which again split into the “common” anxiety and depression, and the “severe” such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc).
It’s important we are clear in what we are talking about.
We see headlines of sportspeople and musicians “opening up about their mental health” where someone incredibly successful “bravely” articulates that they experience(d) high levels of stress, bouts of low mood when they lost a race or faced criticism. I’m not being uncharitable when I say these issues are, for such people, normal. We would expect public criticism of an athlete to be stressful (not to say it’s ok, just not unexpected); in fact I’d argue that such an emotional response is entirely appropriate, like feeling overwhelmed with grief at the loss of a loved one. Periods of sadness, low mood, stress can all be situationally appropriate.
It seems, from reading articles in the press and social media, that this idea of managing stress, wellbeing and resilience is the dominant narrative of events like Mental Health Awareness Week (probably not by design). I feel we are at risk of conflating severe mental illness with normal psychological/emotional responses to stress; pathologising the ordinary.
What we don’t hear about is the person with debilitating schizophrenia, living on benefits in low quality housing in a cripplingly under-resourced area of a city with poor access to health and social services.
We don’t hear about parents who try to hide and minimise symptoms for fear their children will be taken away (this happens a lot), causing prolonged stress on top of a serious disorder. This has significant impact on quality of life, physical health, and on the children.
I could give hundreds of examples like that; the effect of severe mental illness on people who struggle to access suitable services.
And I could give hundreds of examples of how under-resourced, poorly staffed and badly designed mental health services are.
And I could give hundreds of examples of how employment, benefits, housing, environment, education and crime are linked to (and damaging to) a person’s ability to live a life that brings them satisfaction, joy, contentment.
Severe mental illness is unlikely to be preventable. A person’s ability to live with it, however, is determined by the society they live in.
Which makes all these issues political.
Housing, healthcare, education, employment, benefits, crime, environment, social support – all areas that directly affect a person’s ability to live a meaningful and satisfying life, and all areas that are woefully under-resourced after years of budget cuts.
Society’s political choices, particularly who we vote for, has a direct effect on people’s mental health.
Please keep this in mind next time you vote.
End of rant 😐