love lay down beside me and we wept

By Helen Murray Taylor

A rare and lyrical memoir about the author's time in a psychiatric ward and her road to recovery

Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Do we need a Mental Health Awareness Week?

It's all over the radio and TV news and everywhere on socials, but in case you missed it, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. You might ask whether we actually need a whole week dedicated to talking about mental health. After all, open any Instagram or Twitter feed and you'll see loads of posts tagged with mental health and mental health awareness. It seems to be a bit of a buzz topic. Do we need to promote it further?

Of course, I'm going to argue that we do. One of the reasons that I wanted to write love lay down beside me and we wept was to talk openly about mental illness and do my part in trying to increase understanding. That said, I have my reservations about much of the material that you find on social media. Inspirational quotes are not my bag, and simplified quizzes to diagnose different conditions can actually be harmful. All this talk about mental health might feed the fears of the worried well. But that said, I really believe that the more we talk honestly and in an informed way about mental health the better.

Back in the day when I was a medical student, cancer was a dirty word. We were taught to use euphemisms, to skirt around the word in front of patients, at least until we knew whether it was a term they could deal with. There was fear of the disease but there was also a stigma associated with it. A secret to be kept. My grandad died of cancer. I don't think he ever used the term. I don't think it was used in front of him. I am absolutely sure that this fear of the word itself, the inability to talk openly about a diagnosis, caused untold harm, both through missed diagnoses and through lack of support for patients. Thankfully, times have moved on.

The same could apply to talking about mental illness in general. For decades, it was something that had to be kept hidden. It was surrounded by shame and stigma. Of course, there are differences between receiving a cancer diagnosis and having mental health problems. Mental disorders are conditions on a spectrum. We can all suffer symptoms related to mental illness without necessarily crossing the threshold that would give the condition a label. But either way, whether it is a few mild symptoms or a much more severe episode, surely there is nothing to be lost by talking openly, honestly and without fear of judgment?

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Melanie Burch
 Melanie Burch says:

Great post Helen and so true - mental health concerns should be something that people can broach without fear of judgement, and should be able to do so with zero sense of shame...things are changing though which is so heartening :)

posted 18th May 2023

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