This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week. It comes around each year in the UK, usually with a new theme to focus on. Last year it was stress; this year, body image. It’s a time when social media, television, workplaces, you name it, all flood their walls and feeds with ‘Let’s Talk’ images and posts. In offices, people will be reminded of the services on offer to help with mental wellness; on television, you’ll see famous faces sharing stories they might have kept quiet before this week. Each year, Mental Health Awareness Week does the job it was originally established for (and a vital, life-changing job, at that): it gets people talking.
We’ve come a long way since the days of imprisoning women with PMS as insane, demon-possessed monsters and cutting into the brains of people who dared to struggle with life when electrocuting them didn’t work. We have made real progress in recognising, understanding and dealing with mental health. And weeks like this, as well as amazing organisations like Mind and the Time to Change campaign, have played a fundamental part in this positive change.
I am not against Mental Health Awareness Week. I am so for anything that provides a springboard for real and life-preserving discussion about the reality of mental illness and how it affects people in so many visible and invisible ways. Positive change is positive, absolutely. But here’s the thing I do want to say: one week just isn’t enough.
It’s great that we have talked about what depression and anxiety and bipolar and eating disorders and personality disorder and other mental illnesses really are. It’s great that we have asked questions to understand how they manifest in different ways and affect people’s lives. It’s great. But it would be even better if we carried on that discussion into next week, next month, next year.
It’s great that we have taken time to listen to people share their stories, to listen quietly and learn how to not pass judgement or paper over the cracks with empty platitudes. It’s great that we have learnt how to ask twice of our friends who seem less than okay. It’s great. But it would be even better if listening and asking twice became part of our routine every week, if it became not a chore but just a part of how we love and support each other every day.
It’s great that we have seen mental health in the mainstream media, that we have not felt ashamed to talk about it but have been given space and freedom to do so in a way that makes it seem normal, as it should. It’s great. But it would be even better if the shame and stigma of talking about mental health – if even using the words ‘mental health’ – became just as normal as any other discussion at any other time in any other week.
Because the reality is we all have mental health. Let’s talk about mental illness and mental wellness every week. Maybe then, we won’t need a week each year to raise awareness; maybe then, it will be as normal and free and comfortable as talking about the weather; maybe then, we will see more mental wellness.