Today has been a really encouraging day for me.
I have spent the day in Hammersmith taking part in the Big Mental Health day. A conference, unsurprisingly, looking at mental health in the context of church and how the church can better engage with and care for those in their communities and congregations with mental health problems, as well as look after our own mental health.
The theme of the day was ‘us not them’ and was exploring the fact that when we talk about people with mental health problems, we talk about ‘them’, failing to recognise or remember that we all have mental health, we all have to look after our mental health, just some of us have more trouble with this than others.
We need to talk about mental health as ‘our’ problem, in order to engage with the fact that it WILL impact on us all, whether personally or due to someone close to us.
However, the big mental health day was just one conference in a day that has been noted all over the world. If you look at the #WMHD hash tag there are SO many people talking about it. Whether it is their experiences, or training resources, or hopeful stories, or just an acknowledgment of the scale of the issue we are facing – people are talking about mental health.
This is such an encouragement, as, year by year, we are seeing more people engage with an issue that will effect everyone of us in our lifetimes. 1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem in any given year – which means we will all know someone who is living with and fighting mental ill health.
It is extraordinary to me that stigma still exists in association with something that is so prevalent, and yet it does. I was asked recently ‘what is the most shocking thing you have heard in relation to mental health?’ but in reality, the more appalling statements seem easier to dismiss as idiotic, the shocking thing is that people still believe (and it is alarmingly common) that people with depression are dangerous. Or that it is a sign of weakness or failing to be diagnosed with a mental health problem. It is shocking to me that people still feel the need to hide their mental health problems, because the negative responses are still a major problem and induce feelings of shame or fear in those already struggling too much.
This stigma though, is changing. Increasingly people are feeling brave and bold enough to speak out about their experience. Other people are listening and learning, wanting to know how they can support a loved one or colleague. Organisations are asking people to come in and talk to them about it, wanting to explore how they can care for their staff better. Today, I was one small part of a world wide conversation talking about mental health – and it is incredibly exciting.
So, as I sit here beginning to dose and my brain turning foggy, I feel encouraged by the changes and conversations happening across the world, today at least, I feel hopeful!