Author: Caoimhe Mercer
This month (May) is Mental Health Awareness Month 2020. There are many differences this year, however, due to the concerns surrounding Covid19. With the need for social distancing and isolation, people’s mental health will likely suffer as a result. As such, it is times like these whereby we need to normalise the need for mental health treatment, just as we would getting treatment for a physical injury!
Earlier this year, I attended a workshop on Mental Health, held by the GAA- the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland where I am based, alongside the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. While there, one of the programme coordinators asked us to shout out the first thing that came to our heads when he said the term “mental health”. He got an abundance of words like “sickness”, “something wrong” and even “crazy”. These people meant not to insult or hurt anyone. Rather, they were simply misinformed and lacking education on the subject.
The coordinator then explained that mental health is like physical health in that EVERYONE has it, and that you can have good days and bad days, and still be “normal”, whatever normal is! Just as you can have bad times with your physical health, you can also have bad times with your mental health- and it is all part of the human experience. That being said, more often than not a physical ailment is met with sympathy and understanding. A broken bone, for example, will be met with ‘Get well soon!’ sentiments. Having a difficult time with your mental health and suffering from mental illness, however, can be met with a very different reaction. Mental illness can often be a taboo subject, and more often than not if you explain to people that you are having a tough time mentally, they do not know how to react. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, as people may often be unfamiliar with speaking openly about mental health. It may not come from a purposefully hurtful place, but rather a place of misinformation and lack of education on the issue.
Mental health is universal- everyone has it, just as they have physical health. Mental illness, on the other hand, includes those people who are having difficulty and are struggling mentally, or have even been given a diagnosis of mental illness such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder to name but a few. So please, help reduce the stigma by educating yourself on mental health and mental illness, the difference between them, and realising that it shouldn’t be a taboo subject. You do not have to talk about your own personal experiences publicly, but realising that talking is a healer could help save a life. Even if you do not have bipolar disorder, or suffer with mental illness yourself, talking openly about mental health and helping to spread awareness that it is something we all have, is a great way to fight the stigma which often surrounds mental illness. We are all human, and having health difficulties arise throughout our lives is a standard part of our existence- whether it be physical or mental. The more we talk about mental health as being a ‘normal’ part of our overall health, the easier it will be to open up if something becomes mentally difficult.
The more education there is around mental health and mental illness, the more people will understand the difference- which is so important with regards to breaking down barriers! Education is key, and together as a community we can pull together and we help each other.