I’ve done a lot of work around mental health in the past few years. I sort of tripped and fell into volunteering with mental health charities back in 2012 and haven’t looked back since; I enjoy it and the people I work with are nothing but lovely.
We’ve been working on fighting stigma, education people, raising awareness etc. for a long time. As much as I’ve always participated and fully believed in the cause, I’m not sure I’ve always quite understood the battle we were fighting. In some ways, it’s felt like a battle that wasn’t really there.
Sure, I’ve seen mental health stigma and discrimination online. I’ve seen and heard people use mental health conditions as derogatory terms. I’ve seen people torment and abuse people with mental illnesses, openly, online. But I have never really had it smack me in the face – or seen much of it offline.
Today, we were asking people to fill in postcards with their ‘5-a-day for their mind’. The idea was to write 5 things on a postcards which cheered them up/made them happy, along with their address, and we would send these postcards to them in the winter months, so that when things got dark they had a pick me up.
It was fab! In total, we had over 100 conversations about a combination of mental health and mental illness, 100 postcards filled in and a lot of smoothies made (we had a smoothie bar with us). Considering there were only 4 of us running it all and only two of us doing the postcards, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
However, there were two instances during the day where parents heard the words ‘mental health’, took their children and literally pulled them away.
It makes me so sad because not only did the children not get to take part in the activity, but the parents, by doing that, teach their children that ‘mental health’ and all things associated with it are bad. What if that child grows up and has a rubbish day and feels low? What if they experiences anxiety around a stressful time in their life? What if they develop a fill blown mental illness? Will they be able to speak to their parents about it? Will their parents support them or help them?
I hope they will. I hope they won’t deny them support because ‘mental illness doesn’t happen in families like ours’ or some crap like that. I hope they won’t tell their child that their feelings aren’t real or they don’t exist. I hope they will help them.
If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, in fact whoever you are, if you’ve got this far – please don’t turn mental health, mental illness and all associated words into swearwords. Please don’t make them taboo. Please allow your loved ones to be honest and open about how they feel. You never know, one day it could save a life.
Written by Naomi, first published here.