Mental health is a subject very close to my heart. So, naturally, the recent upsurge in awareness and support for those dealing with mental health issues has made me, and many others, both proud and hopeful.
As a result of various educational campaigns and the social media presence of charities, such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation, more and more of us are becoming informed about serious illnesses like depression and anxiety, to name but a few. There is still a long way to go, funding is extremely small in comparison to the large amount of the population affected, but real progress is being made day by day.
You would not imagine, then, that there could be a downside to increased recognition of previously shunned illnesses, ones which were deemed either imaginary, self-inflicted or, failing these, certainly self-treatable. Unfortunately, there is.
The rapidly evolving improvements to global perceptions and understanding of mental illnesses has brought a general appropriation of medical diagnoses within the milieu of certain social groups. A predilection for people to throw illnesses like depression and OCD around haphazardly, as if they were social buzz words that might get you some attention or a free pass in inconvenient situations, has become the norm.
How many times have you heard someone who has recently been dumped or simply had a bad week say they are 'literally depressed'? Perhaps you have witnessed a colleague tidying things up only to claim they are 'so OCD'. Most often, and especially for my generation, you hear people claim to have intense anxiety, because they can't face going to a party or are feeling nervous about a big life event.
These emotions are real to the people who suffer them. I do not wish to denigrate them. We are living in an age where our every move is recorded and shared, a setting highly conducive to feeling anxious or imperfect, especially if you aren't living the 'ultimate' lifestyle. They are real, but they are not mental illnesses.
Using these words without recognising their full weight is not only disrespectful to victims of mental health problems, it is dangerous. When we, in our modern, digital culture, are finally getting to a crucial point of acknowledgement for serious, life-threatening mental health issues, it is essential that we do not allow the importance of these illnesses to plummet by falling into social jargon at the expense of real sufferers.
I lost my mother to a mental health illness, she struggled with clinical depression and anxiety throughout her life. She didn't broadcast that fact, genuine sufferers rarely do. Instead she tried to deal with it personally and with those closest to her, because at that time - even just a few short years ago - awareness was not what it is now. She was ashamed of how she felt and, ultimately, that shame cost her her life.
It is so important that we are all conscious of the words we choose to communicate our emotions. If we are feeling down, upset, angry or even anxious, there are ways to share these responses without adopting the language of genuine, severe medical illnesses, thereby belittling actual sufferers, even if unintentionally.
Those who do not really suffer from a mental health issue should always be mindful that our emotions are just that, our emotions. Not an opportunity to exploit the rising awareness and progress towards a world where mental health is taken seriously, each and every time.