It is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, and with new statistics, it is becoming clear that something more needs to be done.
A survey carried out by the World Health Organisation has found that 1 in 4 people around the world have been or are currently affected by mental health problems – namely depression and panic attacks – while further research by the Mental Health Foundation has found that the mental health problem here in the UK is even more serious. Having surveyed more than 2,000 people, the results found that 65% had experienced some form of mental health, with 7 in 10 women, young adults aged 18-34 and people living alone experiencing a problem of some kind. These statistics are worrying, particularly so for our generation: two-thirds of Britons have experienced poor mental health in their lifetime.
We are quickly becoming known as the ‘snowflake generation’, a term that has been bandied about for far too long – it should never have become a trend in the first place. Terms such as this one ignite the overwhelming stigma that is already attributed to mental health, and with more and more people telling our generation to simply ‘toughen up’ and ‘get over it’, it is making it increasingly difficult for us to feel we can be open and honest about what is really going on in our heads.
I have experienced poor mental health first hand. I have always suffered from some form of anxiety, with it being significantly amplified throughout university due to stress and pressure not only from my degree, but also that of which I put on myself. I found myself spiralling into depression during my second year when a close friend passed away, choosing not to take care of myself but to look out for my friends instead; a good idea at the start, but with hindsight, perhaps not totally beneficial for my own wellbeing. Moving away to Spain for my year abroad, I again fought these demons, losing sleep and weight due to anxiety and lack of appetite. At Christmas time my doctor told me it sounded like I’d experienced a heavy bout of depression, which is scary but just that touch easier to deal with when spoken aloud. It made it into something tangible, something I aimed to tackle.
Throughout all these situations, I have sat and asked myself countless times: Why is this happening? What even is happening to me? Why am I like this? Why can’t I calm down or stop crying? I know I am not the first or the last to have these questions run through their head, and I know many people that have had far darker thoughts prick and poke at them until it felt like too much to bear. However, I have been lucky. My university is an open, honest place, and I eventually plucked up the courage to seek help. Had I not been surrounded by the right people, or far more luckily, by the incredible counselling services my university provides, I guarantee I would not be continuing my studies abroad and would probably have dropped half of my joint honours degree altogether. The fact I have now been here for 8 months is testament not only to the help I’ve received, but the fact that I chose to ask for help when I knew something was interfering with my day-to-day life.
With news that Theresa May is promising an overhaul of the 1983 Mental Health Act in order to introduce new legislation that will provide more awareness within work places and support within schools, it is hard to believe this will ever become a reality should the Conservatives be reelected next month. Under the Tory government in the previous two years, mental health services have been cut within 40% of our country’s NHS Trusts, with options being limited without a severely long waiting time or private health bill. What mental health awareness needs is not just awareness itself, but the need to spark more conversation and action.
Awareness is great and continues to grow in our country, but it is simply not enough by itself. We need to encourage more than just knowledge and statistics, but also just encourage in general. We need to encourage the idea that speaking out and then going on to seek help is vital to our own survival; we need to encourage the want and need to improve our own mental and physical wellbeing; we need to encourage more young people that they are not alone in their struggle. The cuts to mental health services that have occurred year after year in the UK are sickening to even believe, especially given that the biggest killer of young men under the age of 40 is suicide.
We need to throw out the stigma that we have given and continue to give to mental health within this country. It is okay for young people to express themselves, for men to deal with their emotions in an expressive and extroverted way, for women to feel they are able to be emotional and honest without being stereotyped for their gender, for people to feel they can tell someone they’re having problems without being labelled as a bloody snowflake.
You are a snowflake, but not for being weak: you are individual, you are intricate, you are beautiful and most importantly, you need to be handled with care. This is regardless of age, background, gender, race, income or job status. Everyone is entitled to receive decent mental health care and treatment, and the fact that it is becoming harder to do so in the 21st century is something truly dystopian. Things need to change, and fast.
Words by Kirstie Sutherland