Breaking the Stigma

Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

At a time when suicide is the biggest killer of young men in Britain, it is more imperative now than ever that mental illness, particularly in young people, is discussed openly and frequently. Youth mental illness is so frustratingly misunderstood and the consequences are devastating. Negative feelings are often put down to typical teenage hormones and the stresses of school/work and other trivial, typical youth related problems. However, the reality of mental illness for young people is far from the trivial every-day, hormone induced stresses that youth mental illness is so wrongly and  frequently categorized under.

It is exhausting, it is lonely and it is terrifying. It’s being surrounded by hundreds, even thousands of people and feeling like you are all by yourself. It’s waking up in the middle of the night unable to even move because you are so consumed by anxiety. It’s being unbearably irritable and not understanding why. It’s the struggle of trying to silently understand your own feelings while at the same time being too scared to admit your struggle for the fear of being judged.

Roughly 1 in 5 young adults currently suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition at the same time as 3 in 4 young people aren’t receiving the help that they need. These figures are horrifying and opening up inclusive discussion on this topic is incredibly important as we take steps towards a more effective society-wide attitude towards mental health. The sad reality is that even with the fantastic efforts of the Scottish Government and organisations like SAMH, we can’t beat the destructiveness of mental illness until we defeat the societal stigma attached to it and discussion is one of the best places to start. Having someone to talk to in your loneliest moments makes all the difference to your situation and I urge anybody who recognises any symptoms I’ve described to reach out to someone, anyone – even me.

Stigma kills. People are literally opting to end their own lives rather than seek help because society tells them that having a mental illness is something to be ashamed of. They are suffering in painful silence because society tells them that mental illness is less acceptable than physical illness. We need to spread the message that it’s ok not to be ok and it’s equally as ok to admit it.

In case you hadn’t worked this out – I suffer from mental illness. I was relatively recently diagnosed with a combination of anxiety and depression after years of suffering in silence. At times it has been almost debilitating and incredibly limiting, but the help I needed was out there when I looked for it and it has dramatically changed my life for the better. People were surprised by my diagnosis when I finally built up the courage to speak about it. I seem like a normal, happy person with a stable job and a loving home – but that is precisely the point. Depression doesn’t care if you have a stable job or a loving home or anything else for that matter and this is something society as a whole massively struggles to understand. We must emphasise that there doesn’t always have to be a reason for mental illness, much like I very much doubt there was a specific reason that the little boy down the road fell and broke his arm last week. It can happen to any of us, and it happens to more of us than we think.

Unlike physical ailments, those of us who suffer mentally are expected to just carry on and help ourselves because after-all it is our own bad attitude towards life that has caused us to feel this way, right? I too believed this to be true, until I realised that there is in fact no difference in severity when it comes to physical vs mental illness. Would you expect someone with a fractured spine to just help themselves? Well, unless said person has extraordinary healing powers, I very much doubt this suggestion would be feasible and mental illness is exactly the same. You can’t heal your bones overnight and you certainly can’t heal your brain overnight.

It’s time we changed the conversation when it comes to mental health. Let’s #BreaktheStigma.

-Kelly Given, SNP Youth Equalities Officer

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Author: SNP Youth

Young Scots For Independence