The amount of people who criticise those of us who have mental health issues for ‘attention-seeking’ is shocking. Raising awareness and seeking medical help, and compassion and, yes, attention from friends sometimes saves lives and should never be discouraged.
The stigma around mental health, as opposed to physical health, is shocking. When we have a broken leg or the flu, we get tonnes of people making sympathetic noises and asking if we need tissues or help walking. People constantly ask “oooh, what happened to your leg?”
However, when we complain that we are feeling sad, that life is not worth living or even have signs of self-harm, people stay silent. Sometimes, of course, it is very sensible not to bring up peoples’ self-harm as they can be rightly sensitive about it in a way that people with broken legs are- usually- simply not! The other attitude that people hold is that people who self-harm or admit to having mental health issues are ‘attention-seeking’ and say hurtful things like ‘he/she just self-harms for attention’. Well, if someone is crying for help, surely the nice thing to do is help them? Not make them feel even more shit about themselves. An LSE report recently showed that, on average, depressed people are doubly more disabled than people with other debilitating conditions such as asthma, angina and arthritis.
At its worst, a consequence of staying silent- often because of this exact stigma- is suicide. I am not using hyperbole here: the mortality rate for people with bipolar or schizophrenia is almost double that of mentally well people. A US study has shown that 15% of people with depression will commit suicide. That’s 1 in 6. The risk for the general population was put at 1%. Mental health disorders can be deadly and ignoring them makes them even more so. Telling someone that they are attention-seeking can make them doubt themselves and actually believe you that they shouldn’t seek help. Brushing someone’s mental health issues aside can prevent them from getting the help that they need. The help that could save their life.
1 in 4 people have or will suffer with mental health problems in their life. That’s 3 people in your seminar of 12. 3,750 people at our University. Yet we ignore it. We stigmatise it. Only a quarter of people with mental illness are in or seeking treatment. And that’s the people who we know about. There is a silent majority of our population who have an illness and are too frightened or embarrassed to tell anyone about it for fear of being brushed off or laughed at. And that is the fault of our society for belittling such a huge problem.
The NHS spends far less (only 13% of its expenditure) on mental health issues than physical health issues. Psychological health care is cheap to administer and recovery rates are high. Half of all patients with anxiety will recover completely, and half of all patients with depression will recover with no relapses. The NHS is spending money on physical problems that are caused when mental health goes untreated and that is partly our fault for stigmatising it, so people don’t seek help until it is too late.
Let’s make a change. Let’s be good friends, classmates and people. Let’s listen to each other and support each other, and encourage those of us who are ill to get help. I know that I wouldn’t have ever gone to the Doctor if my friends hadn’t basically forced me to.
If you want to talk about any mental health issues at all, please don’t stay silent. Don’t let society bully you into not seeking help for a real, and serious, problem. At York we have Nightline, an on-campus Surgery, and so many assorted Welfare teams who are actively volunteering to help you. If your friends start giving you bother for it, show them this article and all the other resources on the internet (Mind is a good one to start with) which show what a real problem mental health is. Raising awareness is so important.
Let’s stop the silence and speak out.