It’s World Mental Health Day. A day that I usually spend out on the streets campaigning or on social media encouraging people to talk about mental health openly.
I’m a big fan of bashing the stigma, but we’re currently in a climate where the stigma attached to some conditions is being dismantled much quicker than it is for others. And to top of this unfortunate state of affairs, the same can be said for the provision of support.
Now, we all know that mental health services are abysmal currently and we could talk about all the reasons why that is the case – I’d just end up sounding like a broken record. We’re all quite frankly in the shit when it comes to access to services.
But, for some mental illnesses, you have a much worse off deal. There is a growing level of awareness and more accessible support for depression and anxiety, whether it’s self-help services, talking therapies, CBT etc. Yes, waiting lists are long for the latter, but you are much more likely to get a space in an anxiety group than you are to get to the top of a waiting list to see a psychiatrist or to access EMDR therapy.
Your type of illness dictates your level of support
When you have a diagnosis of the less talked about mental illnesses, it’s just that little bit harder to get some support from anywhere. And I’ve seen the difference. I was originally diagnosed with moderate depression six years ago. Flash forward in time and we’re looking at PTSD, an anxiety disorder and selective eating disorder. Back then, yes I waited a for quite some time but I had some CBT and some counselling. Whizz forward to now, and aside from a brief stint in a psychiatric day unit, I’ve pretty much been left to my own devices. And in the nicest way possible, when I asked my GP for help dealing with flashbacks and no sleep, a yoga prescription wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
This is not a post of me looking for a pity party, this is me saying that conditions that fall outside of anxiety need a little more attention. You should not need to end up in a hospital in order to have your medication reviewed and have get a little bit of support to function daily.
Equally, this is not mental health oppression Olympics and conditions aren’t comparable because the way they are experienced depends on the individual. However, there is no doubt that for some conditions that is a wider variety of more accessible support available than there is for others. There’s also a lesser level of understanding. If you pull out a random person on the street, they’ll likely have a better idea of what depression is than they would of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. And that’s because these conditions are less talked about and less accessible.
Romanticising anxiety and depression
If you head on to Instagram, YouTube or Bloglovin’, there will be an overflowing supply of stories and pictures of people talking about their depression or their anxiety. And this really is great, it’s important that people are speaking out and being brave enough to say that they’re not okay and I wholeheartedly salute that. But, when you have a mental illness that isn’t really spoken about and isn’t social media friendly, you don’t have the same sort of access to those outlets to share your experiences.
Unfortunately, I feel we are entering into a digital age of the romanticising mental health. People who aren’t living with it seem happier to support a ‘cause’ that makes a good photo than truly support the cause of raising awareness of mental health and providing true support to people who are putting their stories out there.
Let’s take action
When we talk about mental health, we need to be inclusive within our conversations and in our campaigning. When we reflect on the support available, there need to be clear pathways and suggestions of support for all conditions, not solely those that are more common. We are all in this together, whatever state our mental health is in because we all have mental health. \
So today, when we talk about mental health, let’s be true to our own stories but also acknowledge those of others that differ from our own. Let’s make it clear that we believe that all mental illnesses should be acknowledged and treated equally. If we want to see a change in services, it’s us who needs to make that change. It’s time to talk and it’s time to change the conversation.
Charlotte Maxwell is a writer, theatremaker and critic from Manchester. She is the Editor of online publication, A Younger Theatre and occasionally contributes to a number of blogs and magazines. Charlotte spends around 96.5% of her time doing something to do with theatre (watching, writing, making, performing etc). The rest of her time is spent disability rights campaigning, watching the strangest documentaries she can find and attempting to give up dairy.