Welcome to the sixth and penultimate article in our Mental Health Awareness Week series, where we have looking into a series of facets based around mental health to raise awareness and break down stereotypes.
We want to help people with mental health. At least, I like to think we all do. But to do that, we need to understand these conditions, and to do that, we need to move away from the stigmas and stereotypes that loom over mental health like a dark cloud over anywhere British.
One of the biggest stereotypes surrounding mental health is that people undergoing these issues are unstable and a danger to people. Cinema is guilty of exacerbating this stereotype. I mean, how many mainstream films can you think of featuring mental health where insanity and violence DON’T go hand-in-hand? It’s a bit hard to see the more balanced, subtle depictions of mental health where we’ve got characters like Hannibal Lecter embedded into our public consciousness. I’m not saying that aren’t films like that out there. Believe me, there are, Silver Linings Playbook being one of the best examples (and as far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest films featuring mental health: see here for my full analysis). But many of these films featuring more commonplace and less ‘extreme’ cases are often only known in limited circles.
Despite the somewhat extreme portrayals of mental health you see onscreen, for the most part, your own afflictions with mental health may be much more subtler, and it can only impact certain aspects of your life as opposed to a complete disruption.
I feel that as individuals, we are overly conscious about disclosing mental health to people in our personal circles on account of how mental health is perceived in our culture. Everyone is affected differently, and even though some are more heavily affected than everyone else, I feel like we are still judging people based on that invisible scale where you have to be a ticking time bomb to receive any kind of support.
For some of us, if we see someone feeling overly despondent over what we may perceive as a minor issue (I’m going to refrain from using an example here because many of us have different ideas of what constitutes a ‘minor issue’), our first instinct might be to tell them to ‘get over it’. I’ve always felt that for a person who feels there is no way out of a distressing situation and aren’t sure who they can turn to, there are no three words in the English language more grating than ‘get over it’. In fact, it is using expressions like that that make people feel that whatever they’re feeling is not worth talking.
A lot of people are reluctant to talk about their struggles with mental health because they’re worried about how it will reflect on them, not wanting to be seen as ‘weak’ or ‘vulnerable’. Let’s just be clear, experiencing issues with mental health does NOT make you weak. We may all be different, but we’re all susceptible to complications with mental health. And since we’re all susceptible, does that mean we’re ALL weak? No, that’s ridiculous logic. 1 in 6 people report experiencing a mental health problem every week. We need to move away from this masculine perception that you have to put on a sight of mental strength. If people refrain from talking, then they’re essentially being left to their own devices and dealing with inadequate coping strategies.
Another major issue around mental health is the idea that you can’t lead a normal life if your mental health is playing up. This is probably one reason why people are so reluctant to talk about it. They don’t want to be seen as incapable. In many cases, people who go through mental health may have a steady job, a good home life, essentially mastering the art of independent living… and still have to contend with poor mental health at some point in their lives. You can function and struggle. But again, just because people are able to function SHOULD NOT diminish their need for help, be it from a professional or from someone within the social circle.
It appears to be the norm these days for any condition to come with a stigma. And, I’m ashamed to say, there are times when I have found myself falling back on what I know about stigmas in lieu of actual facts. In fact, if you’re being introduced to a new concept surrounding mental health, chances are it’ll be the stereotypes doing the introducing.
It’s easy for us (or me, anyway) to forget that you don’t necessarily have to have a mental-based condition to struggle with mental health. The stresses of everyday life can easily take their toll on the psyche. Which is why conditions carrying titled labels can sometimes be a double-edged sword, with a single word opening the floodgates for a string of stereotypes.
Essentially, when we’re learning about someone’s mental health, we may need to jump through contrasting hoops… not literally, we’re trying to introduce people to a support model, not a circus… unless said support entails acrobatics… but I digress. We all need to take the same first step; we need to look at that person’s mental health through a fresh pair of eyes. Let them try and explain how that condition affects them and what is likely to set the anxiety fuse.
A final reason we need to break away from these stereotypes is because they run the risk of simplifying the struggles people have to endure as part of their mental health. It can be difficult to get your head around mental health (I still feel like I’m getting lost in the maze of knowledge), but if we’re going to move forward with mental health, we can’t be boxing people into stereotypes. If anything, moving away from these stigmas is a major step forward in tackling poor mental health and better understanding individuals.
If you enjoyed this article, why don’t you check out the other blogs in the Mental Health Awareness Week Series: