Why I Hate Mental Health Awareness Days
Updated: Jun 5
It's great we're talking about mental health more and more, in the media, at work, in schools. There are forums online, support groups you can access, and you can't walk through a bookshop without getting lost in the self-help section.
But is awareness really enough?
What about doing something about your mental health? What about taking some action to help yourself and even others? Instead of talking about the problem, we should instead be talking about the solution.
When I was a practising optometrist, the conversations with my patients often turned to their mental health. I had to take note of any medication my patient was on and very quickly picked up all the complicated names of the vast array of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications that were being prescribed. I was astonished that this was the first option doled out by over-worked GP's to help
people cope with life.
My clinic would often fall behind though as I love to hear people's stories. These stories often began in stress. A bereavement maybe, financial or work stress, family issues, illness.....and yet some people would cope really well with these issues and others were feeling like their world was ending. This fascinated me! Why is it that some people really face the challenges of life with resilience and others can fall apart and struggle to get back up again?
This burning question led me to study the brain and the mind, and retrain as a psychotherapist. What I really wanted to study though is those people who are resilient, those people that really cope well and manage their thoughts and emotions to persevere and, with acceptance, continue to enjoy life to it's fullest.
I believe we should study these people and how they do things. I think we should be examining how the brain functions to cause these symptoms and what can be done about them. I believe we should be studying positive psychology.
So having a day of awareness for anxiety, or depression or any other mental health issue is not really addressing the solution. I feel it's just giving a nod in the right direction but not offering any action plan to resolve anything. Awareness weeks or days just remind me of those times when I've attended corporate meetings where a lot was talked about but no conclusion was formed, neither was any action taken to implement change. I appreciate that charities and the governing bodies are trying to do something but how much impact does it really make? Is it just becoming a 'tick-box' exercise? Awareness may have risen - but that's not reduced the prevalence of mental health issues.
Anyone suffering with mental health issues wants to know how to feel happy, confident and in control of their thoughts and feelings. Let's talk about that instead! Let's talk about maintaining a healthy state of mind, keeping our stress buckets empty and managing the challenges that we can all face at some point in our lives.
Hang on a minute - let's not just talk, let's actually show people, demonstrate, take some action to help. Let's support people to go ask for help, let's go with them to places we think will help.
And what is it about just assigning this one particular day (or week, or month) to it - does that mean the rest of the time you can forget about it? People with depression and anxiety have to deal with it every day, 24 hours a day......and guess what, those people who are happy and confident - they also deal with it every day. They just know how to keep that positive frame of mind, they maintain habits that help them in this - usually without even realising that they're doing it!
That is why Solution Focused therapy appeals to me so much. Now as a therapist I help people understand and manage those symptoms, accepting the past, realising, with clarity, that you can't change it but looking forward to a preferred future. Focusing on how you WANT things to be rather than how you DON'T want them to be.
There are so many solutions out there; classes, support groups, therapists and teachers of so many different modalities. You just need to find out what's right for you, find what works for you and do more of that! Be proactive to help yourself or someone you know who is struggling.
With so many different awareness days about at the moment (did you know there's a Be Nice To Nettles Week?) I feel mental health is beginning to just blend into the background of it all.
I don't need any more awareness, I need some action!
Gin Lalli firstname.lastname@example.org
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland