One of the greatest challenges in improving mental health is getting people to talk about their personal struggles with it. Although there is an increasing awareness and advocacy, many people are still fighting mental illness in silence and isolation. By exploring some of the reasons behind the struggle to reach out, I hope to inspire people who suffer from mental ill health to think about whether they should be reaching out for help and – if not –what is stopping them from doing so. We need to start speaking up as individuals, but there is also an obligation for communities to look at what social barriers stop people from reaching out and how these can be removed.
One of the main reasons why people find it difficult to ask for help is the stigma that continues to surround mental illness. People affected worry about how others might react, whether they will be treated differently, as well as how it might affect their employment, education or relationships. There is also this idea that people with mental illness have failed in some way, which is a result of a complete lack of understanding. Talking about mental illness and increasing our awareness are both important ways of reducing the stigma, which exists because people generally change their view of a person to whom they attribute an illness. Illness does not define a person. It is important to understand that mental illness is something the person is battling. We should not view people differently because of their ill health.
Within this shame lies the idea that speaking about mental health issues or emotions is a sign of weakness. This concept is especially problematic amongst men, who are expected to be strong and feel they can’t show weakness. In recent years, there have been a number of male public figures speaking out on the subject. Hopefully, these kinds of initiatives will pave the way for more men to open up about their mental health. We should also check up on the men around us and encourage those difficult conversations. The more people speak out, the more bravery we see in doing so. We need to normalise speaking about our emotions, just like we talk about other aspects of our health. It’s not weak to speak.
Availability of necessary services is another huge barrier to getting help with mental illness. Mental health services are under-resourced and struggle to keep up with demand. The cost of receiving these services can also be a barrier. Practical issues, such as organising time off work, child care or transportation, can make it difficult to get help. Although these problems are harder to address, we can all play our part in advocating for changes that make mental health services more accessible. The latest budget has made a huge investment in mental health. It is great to see it being prioritised and it will be exciting to see what changes come from this. If you know someone around you who might need help with their mental wellbeing, ask if there is anything you can do to minimise those barriers.
One of the most important things we can do to help people reach out is mutual support and checking up on each other. Creating an environment where people feel like they can turn to their friends and family is essential. This isn’t just about how you support your own friends and family, but also how you react to, understand and talk about mental health in general. Educate yourself. Understand that mental illness is not a choice and each person’s experience is valid, regardless whether it aligns with your own views. Improving the way society views mental health and removing some of the toxic stereotypes will help create a safer environment for people to feel they can reach out.
The struggle of reaching out is real and valid. It can feel impossible for someone to understand what you are going through when sometimes you don’t understand it yourself. We need to create an environment that encourages talking about mental health. If you struggle yourself, try to take small steps. Write a letter or blog about how you are feeling, even if you don’t end up sharing it. Confide in the person you are closest to or an anonymous helpline, whichever you are more comfortable with. When you do decide to reach out and talk about your mental and emotional struggle, I hope that a huge weight is lifted from you.