I had previously decided to wait until I had finished my degree (three more glorious days) and submitted my final assignment before throwing myself back into blogging. However, my Twitter timeline notified me on Monday that it was Mental Health Awareness Week, triggering an internal battle within my DBD (death by dissertation) brain.
I am quite a private person, and would usually not have the confidence to publish anything like this for the whole world to see. Okay, perhaps that's a slightly ambitious audience range, but you get what I mean. No one wants to admit they are struggling, believe me.
There has been a real increase in recent years of resources for mental health. There are websites, books, hotlines, GP services, online forums, probably even an app or two, all dedicated to it. Prince Harry opened up last week about his own battle with mental health, perhaps demonstrating that not even royals are exempt. All of this has contributed to the slowly changing perception of mental illness. It is clear that progress has been made to prioritise an issue that, for my parents' generation at least, was largely ignored.
So then, why did The Mental Health Foundation report that in 2017, only 13% of people are living with high-levels of good health?
Why did I read that mental health spending in parts of England is due to be cut by £4.5 million in the next year? Arguably only in five regions in England, but unfortunately mental health cannot be programmed to avoid Walsall or Scarborough.
I know some of you may be thinking of the £1 billion a year Theresa May has promised will be invested to tackle the 'stigma' around mental health, but perhaps the stigma isn't the biggest issue, perhaps the root of the problem should be addressed first.
This is where my internal battle began. After taking a tactical revision break from writing my essay, I had a browse around what had already been talked about, and almost all of what I could say had been covered. Due to this week coinciding with the upcoming General Election, a lot of people are talking about the Government's responsibility to do more to help those struggling with mental health.
So, I'm not going to talk about what mental health looks like, or whether you can self-diagnose. I won't recommend the best ways to tell your boss you're struggling with depression, or how mental health affects motherhood. I won't even talk about the NME/Stormzy cover image controversy - although I would recommend having a read about it.
Instead, I will talk about you.
Apparently, almost two thirds of people say they've experienced a mental health problem. So, if you have nine friends, that means around five or six of them fall into that category. Mentalhealth.gov say that mental health includes your emotional, psychological and social well-being. This means that unlike a massive cold sore or a black eye, it can be disguised. This then means, that, if someone you know is suffering and can't, don't or won't help themselves, it can go untreated... and just like any illness, the longer it is ignored, the worse it becomes.
Now, I am not saying that it is your responsibility to rigorously quiz your nearest and dearest on their current mental state, but keeping an eye out for the common warning signs is essential. It is life-changing. It is prevention. It is the antidote to replace the desperate three-layered-concealer every morning to hide the sleepless nights and empty eyes.
While #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek is a great starting point, it should not be relegated to a week, or a month or even a year. Mental health doesn't announce its presence with a WhatsApp, and it doesn't disappear after a long sunny walk and a new pair of Nike roshes, but noticing someone has been 'a bit down recently' can be the first step to getting them back on track.
The nature of our society almost encourages the development of mental health problems. You are put under immense pressure to succeed from your SAT's all the way to your BSc, to find a stable, well-paid job that will still exist in twenty years, to save for your first home but also spend on travelling and new experiences. Throw in the expectations of a flat stomach and big bum, increasingly long work hours, the astronomical cost of rent and finding someone to share all these experiences with - no wonder we are struggling.
I like to think of mental illness as a big, fat spot in the middle of your shoulder blades. No one will see it under your clothes, and it can still be hidden from your closest friends. It is always there, some days it's painful and some days it's not. It needs a big, old squeeze, but that is going to hurt, and squeezing the pus out of a spot is disgusting - not something you can just drop into the group chat. It is stopping you from going swimming and wearing anything with a low back, which is okay now, but what about in summer? Say you do decide to bite the bullet and pop it, what if it's too close to the middle of your back for you to reach. People have their own spots, who is going to want to help you with yours?
Tell your mum to squeeze it.
Facetime your best friend from secondary school and get her round to your house with a tissue and some tea tree oil.
No one will care. Really, they won't. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not embarrassing or awkward. This last year has been incredibly difficult for many reasons that I will not divulge, because I really should get back to this essay. However, it has taught me that there is no shame in asking for help and that more people are fighting their own demons than I realised.
Life is hard, and it is made harder when your mental health isn't at its peak, but there is nothing shameful about sharing your struggle or your story. The more we talk about it, the better, so let's get going.