These are uncertain times for mental health sufferers.
In increasingly austere times there is a danger that those with mental health problems are going to be left behind. As David Cameron announces an extra £8 billion to the NHS budget, he fails to tell us whether mental health will be given such attention. As someone who has taken on my anxiety, and now enjoying my life, I worry for the millions of others who are not. I worry for those who have to wait months just to get a consultation with a therapist. I worry that some GPs shun away their patients and leave them on pills for years and years. I worry that there are still people who feel desperate, lonely, anxious, depressed, confused, helpless and scared.
Do not get me wrong, we have come a very long way. The debate within civil society has shifted markedly. If you had a mental health disorder five years ago, you were stigmatised. Today the view that mental health sufferers are mentally weak, has been stigmatised. The progressive attitudes within civil society on this immensely difficult issue pleases me and so many others. Yet the fact that so many men and women take their own lives just shows that there is still a very long way to go.
During the General Election campaign, mental health seemed to finally be on the agenda, with young campaigners getting some excellent airtime on media platforms. But in the midst of post-election, post-Budget mayhem, it seems to be slipping down the political agenda. We can campaign, we can write to our political class, we can demonstrate, but this doesn't always lead to effective political solutions to the scourge that is mental health difficulty.
This doesn't mean we should be passive or feel defeated. There is something we can do that helped my personal journey to emotional stability. But it is based on one fundamental notion, which I believe is imperative to recovery. And that is, control what we can. We can't control government decision-making, we can't make our politicians listen. Sure, we can shout to the rooftop about it, but ultimately we do not have control over this.
I tell you what we can control, which is independent of politicians, the NHS and personal financial circumstances. We can control the way we interact with each other. Social media, for all its strengths, has broken down the personal interaction between people. Instead of giving a friend a call, you write them a Facebook message with a winky face emoji. Instead of chatting up the cute girl at the bar, you hope for a break on Tinder. Instead of debating about serious things down the pub with mates, you debate with strangers on Twitter with cheap and snide remarks. I am an immense hypocrite. I do little of these things. But my interactions need to change. This may seem irrelevant in the mental health debate, but I will tell you why this is relevant.
When I first realised I had some quite difficult inner demons to battle, I tried to fight it alone. And boy did I try. I scanned and peered the Internet looking for help, trying every mental exercise under the sun. But to my frustration, they just didn't seem to work. I was quick to lose patience, expecting overnight results, and these expectations sent me down a further self-perpetuating cycle of pain and distress.
Instead of giving a friend a call, you write them a Facebook message with a winky face emoji. Instead of chatting up the cute girl at the bar, you hope for a break on Tinder. Instead of debating about serious things down the pub with mates, you debate with strangers on Twitter with cheap and snide remarks.
Eighteen months later, I headed down the GP Surgery, and at this point I was desperate. I didn't go to my GP for my anxiety but for something else. But the doctor knew. He knew something was hiding behind this extroverted, lively student. And he was right. Crying and weeping, I told him of my personal circumstances. It was deeply tough, but it was oddly a nice feeling. I let it go. I shared and offloaded some of this pain. I didn't feel alone. Here was someone who understood and empathised. This was a powerful feeling. I was in a rut, but I did feel a little hopeful for the first time. This one intimate personal connection had a positive impact. So then I started talking to more people, more frequently. I started interacting with people on a personal level, not from behind a computer screen. This in turn got friends talking of their own problems, problems which are not disclosed on social media networks. Facebook accounts attempt to show the best of someone's life. We put up our nicest photos, describe our most exciting adventures, share things that make us laugh, even though inside we do not necessarily feel like this. This is a problem for all of us. It gives us the impression that all of our friends are these happy, go-lucky people 24/7, which in turns makes us more reserved and more reluctant to talk to one another about our issues. Why would my friends want to hear about the shit I am going through, we think to ourselves.
Well guess what, we are not our Facebook profiles. They present us with a fabricated snapshot of what one is going through. We all have our shit to deal with, but because of these falsified illusions that we paint of ourselves, we feel we have a limited support network, and that includes a support network for somebody's mental health difficulties.
Talking and personal interactions are really quite powerful phenomena. We are more than content to share our happiest moments on social media, but imagine a world where we would feel obliged to share out most depressing moments with one another? With this support network, many of the problems that seem unmanageable suddenly become manageable.
We need to spend less time online and more time with each other in the open air. Get off Facebook and give your friend a call. Stop swiping left and right on Tinder, and go and chat up the girl at the bar. Stop insulting strangers hundreds of miles away on Twitter and go and take the piss out of your friends at the pub.
Let's start controlling what we can. Improving our personal interactions is the first place we can start.