THE BLOG

Mental Health: Shifting Discussion

29/05/2015 13:02 BST | Updated 28/05/2016 10:59 BST

Finally mental health awareness is receiving the media limelight it deserves but catching our attention is less than half the battle. Headlines attempt to grab our gaze with pseudo statistics; such as one in four adults experience limited mental health at any one time. 25% is intended to surprise us, which is exactly why the framework of discussion needs to be altered completely. Everyone has to maintain their mental health, making the distinction of the "sufferer" from those that are "normal" obsolete. These sensationalist statistics highlight the common nature of mental health issues without identifying it with ourselves. It is this false division between the "affected" 25% from the "normal" majority that makes it difficult to integrate mental health into mainstream culture and conversation. Awareness of mental health is not the problem at large - seeing it as something separate from us is. Whilst daily stresses and strains are the subject of polite small talk, depression or our anxieties crosses into foreign, undisclosed territory. We need to question the buzz-stats of the media, challenge the appearance of "normality" and redefine our understandings of mental health.

Maintenance of our physical health requires lifestyle provisions but popular culture does not encourage us to do the same for our mental health. Going to the gym and eating a balanced diet are expected of us, but taking antidepressants or consulting a psychologist is silenced. This is ridiculous bearing in mind that mental health is as much, if not more, of our wellbeing than our physical status and yet it remains "private". Mental health should be brought into the public sphere because it's something we all have to maintain. Following the campaigns of Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and many more "normal-looking", "successful" individuals, more people are starting to document their experiences of mental health. These public accounts are helping us to realise that restricted mental health and "success" are not mutually exclusive, and that there is no trend, badge or label that sets anyone apart. Everyone encounters stress and concerns, albeit to different degrees, but we should be able to share our own and seek comfort in other people's similar experiences.

Discussion of mental health needs to break out of the confines of psychiatric wards, medical practitioners and patients to enable everyone to chat openly. Our mental wellbeing should be a staple feature of the fleeting, "Hey, how are you?" conversation. And if you're not fine, tell them. They asked. Speaking about mental health makes it more public and easier to discuss. "Stigma" is a term that is often thrown around in relation to mental health, but everyone has a responsibility in its creation and dismantling. By reconciling with our mental wellbeing, rather than viewing it as something foreign, it can shift from being a separate other to an intrinsic part of our identity.

Mental health management is a universal necessity that should be ingrained within the pillars of society and education. Sex ed. in schools has already managed to overcome prudish resilience, teaching about safe sex, STIs and contraception. Education has made getting a quick swab and blood test at the local sexual health clinic trendy. Not only has social education improved but it is also more inclusive. Schools have played a large role in expanding LGBTQ* societies, which reduces homophobia and encourages inclusion. Whilst schools may have made great progress in some areas, there seems to be an obstacle in the way of providing well-informed mental health education. Discourse of mental health need to change, which can only come from the combined efforts of government policy, access to accurate information, sound education and informed media coverage. Conceptualisations of mental health demand reflection, leaving popular understandings of mental health with a way to go yet.