Each and every one of us and each and every one of you reading this post has mental health. It's a fact that we often forget, and it is a fact that we should endeavour to remember.
There's a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in your average woman's life. There's a one in ten chance of developing depression in any one person's life. One in four people have mental health issues and, yet, we're far more open to discussing one topic more than the other. You don't need to be a genius to work out which one it is.
Despite the fact that attitudes are different towards other health issues, and that attitudes towards issues such as sexuality, culture, ethnicity, gender and disabilities are changing, discrimination against people who are suffering with mental health problems are still very widespread. A survey carried out investigating these issues showed that one in ten face discrimination and stigma every single day. 28% of people surveyed waited over a year to tell their families about their mental illnesses and 8.5% of people still haven't told their families. When we think about it, that's a hell of a lot of people.
When we discuss the stigma that surrounds mental health, all we're really discussing is the fear that surrounds the stigma of mental health. People suffer in silence and they don't open up about their mental health because they're scared of what others might say or do to them. It's all about the fear of possibility.
Obviously, I don't really need to say that stigma is bad, but it is. Stigma only adds to the problems that people face when they have a mental illness. Avoidance of the very thing that upsets or distresses you based on your anxieties of other people and what they may or may not think is really not very different to any other social anxiety or OCD behaviour. 58% of people say that the stigma is worse than the illness itself. Stigma has increasingly become a part of the illness of mental health and that's pretty crap.
I used to be one of those people that feared opening up about my issues, because I was so scared that I would be discriminated against, and treated differently for my mental health issues. Unfortunately, in my case, I was right to be fearful. I was told to "man up" a lot of the time. I was told I didn't need the medication that was necessary for my wellbeing at the time. I was told to cheer up, and that things would look better in the morning (of course, it never did.) People treated me like a china doll the minute they found out I had depression and anxiety disorder, being extra sensitive about what they were saying around me for fear they would upset me further, and constantly watching me out of the corners of their eyes, It was really annoying and obviously, none of it helped. All the people who said those things and treated me differently hurt me in more ways than they could possibly know at the time. Now I see that they were, and maybe still are narrow minded and foolish. But, instead of being angry about it, and instead of feeling sad about it, I should thank them.
Now I look back on when I first came out of my mental health closet, I realise that the stigma surrounding mental health that bred the way I was treated actually did me a favour in the long run. The attitude towards me after I came out made me feel pretty defeatist in the short term, (ironically really because everyone was trying to do the exact opposite.) But, in the long run, it spurred me on to get well. People telling me to cheer up, to snap out of it and to stop being so miserable made me realise that, firstly, I didn't need those people in my life and that, secondly, I shouldn't let a bunch of narrow minded and scared people made me feel worse about myself. Your fear of my illness made me realise how much I wanted to stop being ill and made me remove the negative aspects (i.e. you) from my life.
The stigma surrounding mental health is crap and it needs to change. We all know that it does. Why should people with mental health issues be treated any differently because they are struggling with an invisible illness rather than one that can be plainly seen? If we could rewrite the history of the world to make people see mental and physical health combined, then our world would probably be in a much better state mentally.
So thank you to all those people who told me to cheer up and concentrate on what matters or I would never amount to anything, because I'm currently typing this in The Times Newspaper offices in London where I'm on work experience, whilst also revising for an interview for a Masters Course at Cardiff University next week. Thank you to those who said I didn't need the medication because you were right. I won't need it very soon. Thank you to all those people who treated me like I was made of glass because I now feel like I'm made of steel and I feel much better for it. But mostly, thank you for spurring me on to get better with your prejudices and fear. I owe you all one.