“Stop attention-seeking”

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?”

Copyright: LSE
Copyright: LSE

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.

Copyright: LSE
Copyright: LSE

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.


  1. 09 September 2013 - 15:21 BST

    Really great article again, Helena. A reminder that York Nightline is now open part-time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday until term starts. You don’t need to be in York to contact us: you can instant message us using the box on our Facebook page or website, e-mail us on nightmail@yusu.org, call on 01904 323735 or visit us in our flat in Eric Milner-White Court over in Vanbrugh College (previously Wentworth E Block.)

    Whatever it is you want to talk about our volunteers provide a safe environment where someone will listen to you without being assumptive nor judgemental, and we won’t tell you what to do. Everything you talk about is completely confidential too.

  2. Thomas Ron
    09 September 2013 - 22:44 BST

    I think this is an excellent article. The stigma against mental health is really terrible and must be addressed. It is one of my priorities to attempt to fight the stigma and change our society’s view of mental health issues.

    While I am loathe to spill the beans so early into the process, we will be having a large set of events, promoted by the DSN to fight against this stigma and inform the populace, as well as show the support that the University provides for such students. Stay posted

    Thank you Helena for continuing to write on this subject!

  3. Niall Crallan
    10 September 2013 - 15:30 BST

    Nice article, but you need to check your numbers. “1 in 4 people have or will suffer with mental health problems in their life. That’s 4 people in your seminar of 12.”

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