Our theme this May is mental health awareness. In recent years we have made progress when it comes to understanding mental health and many of us feel more comfortable talking about mental health and seeking help and support instead of burying it because of the stigma. There is still a stigma around mental health conditions, particularly conditions that we don’t understand and have more complex, stigmatised symptoms. Remember, struggling with your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. The more we talk about mental health and the more we learn about it, the more we as a society gain a better understanding of people who are struggling and having that understanding makes us more compassionate towards others and ourselves.

Below are some points that can help us bring awareness and understanding to mental health struggles.

Normalise talking about it.

Starting a conversation about mental health can be difficult and awkward but it’s an important topic that we should all be talking about.

If we normalise talking about mental health then people might start opening up more and feel comfortable telling others that they are struggling or that they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

It’s important for us to talk about it, not just so people feel comfortable talking about their own struggles, but so we can educate others and learn something by having these conversations.

Talking about the subject of mental health also makes it easier for us to recognise when we may be struggling ourselves. We can also talk about the things that have helped improve our mental health and give some tips to others that may find them helpful.

Conversations about mental health don’t always have to be about our struggles. Let people know it gets better. 

Know when you need help or when someone close to you may need help.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognise when our mental health is declining but it’s important to try and recognise the signs that we, or someone else, may be struggling. We can monitor our own symptoms and moods by keeping a journal, which is also helpful to have if you need to speak to a professional about it. If you’re losing interest in things, getting more negative thoughts or mood swings, feeling anxious a lot or any other signs that align with poor mental health then you might want to talk to someone, this could mean a friend or family member or it could be your GP or therapist.

Sometimes, we may notice signs in other people that they might not be doing well. If we think someone is struggling you can offer to listen or help them get support. If the signs  you notice are more worrying or then you might want to talk to them, tell them that you’re concerned for their wellbeing and ask them if they are getting any support.

If this person has not yet asked for help or isn’t receiving the necessary help you could encourage them to speak to someone and maybe even offer to go with them to the doctor or whoever they might reach out to for help and support.

If you are not close enough to this person, or if they don’t want to talk to you about it, respect that but if you’re still really concerned about their mental health then you could reach out to someone who is close to them like a close friend or family member.

And remember, there is no shame in asking for help or admitting that you cannot cope. Don’t ever feel like your struggles aren’t bad enough or that you’re not ill enough. It’s always okay to ask for help. 

Representation in media

I find that good media representation can make a big difference when it comes to raising awareness and showing the realities of living with a mental health condition.

A lot of us learn from the books we read and the tv shows and films that we consume. This is a good way to get the message across and destigmatise mental health, especially if that piece of media is written by people who have a prior understanding of mental health and the specific mental health conditions they may be writing about.

Bringing personal experiences into media portrayals always paints a better picture. Sometimes media can get it wrong and spread misinformation and more stigma, this has unfortunately happened before, but then others can get it right and start a conversation and break down barriers.

People who create the media we consume have the power to help stop the stigma and give people a new understanding and compassion towards certain mental health conditions.

To end this, I just wanted to add something that I wish someone had said to me when I was younger and struggling:

Your feelings are valid no matter what anyone says. It doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosed mental health condition or not. It doesn’t matter if someone else has it worse, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think your experience was “traumatic enough” trauma is trauma and the impact is real and it doesn’t matter if the condition/symptoms you have is more stigmatised or not as known about as something that’s more commonly talked about such as anxiety or depression.

We are all valid and everyone who may be struggling with their mental health deserves love, support and a chance to heal, and that’s a message that I think is important to put out there for mental health awareness month.

I believe you, I support and I know you’re strong enough to get through this even though you shouldn’t have to.