A reflection on Mental Health Awareness Week

Our CEO, Kate, examines the need for compassion that lies behind awareness dates  for mental health.

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, I do wonder why the topic of mental health still requires the weeks and days that are designated to it.

The answer is simple: stigma.

So much has been done to make mental health and mental wellbeing more readily discussed. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly seen more and more outwardly facing content around keeping well whilst working in isolation. However, there’s not much talk about compassion.

We all judge some things and some people, some of the time: it’s entirely instinctive to us as humans, when faced with something unfamiliar. To be compassionate is to suspend judgement; to see the human being behind the label and not just to hear, but to listen.

When we listen, we will see that the umbrella term of “mental health” can be dangerously generalising: there are those with clinical diagnoses of mental health conditions and those who are under acute stress. The two are both serious circumstances and not always mutually exclusive. Then there is the middle ground: someone under prolonged stress, experiencing anxiety and on their way to something long term, which they will need to manage. I often analogise this to someone who starts out with a sprained ankle (acute stress). If that person is pushed by others to continually walk or play sport on their ankle, they may well end up with a broken leg (which represents a breakdown). This can also be triggered by unavoidable life events, such as bereavement, divorce, financial difficulty or other emotional trauma.

At this stage, if time is not taken for self care, help and compassion, the gateway to a long term condition may well be created. Long term mental health conditions include clinical depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and OCD. Being compassionate may just prevent someone from breaking their leg in the first place.

Currently, much of the content around mental health in the workplace misses these nuances, and in doing so, fails to adequately support anyone living through any of these experiences. We could arguably call this content “limiting.”

If we are compassionate, we remove the need for limiting conversations around stress, anxiety, mental wellbeing and mental health, all of which are important conversations; somewhat linked and yet very different. If we are compassionate, we avoid limiting definitions of those who have any form of mental health condition. Something that strikes me time and time again is the surprise that many people have when they realise just how many high functioning individuals define as having a clinical mental health condition.

I hope that we will live to see the day where mental health is so well understood and discussed, much like physical health. It would mean that every week is a Mental Health Awareness Week.

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