As Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 begins Getintothis’ Rick Leach relates a personal story and a daunting challenge that lies ahead.
Everybody has a story to tell. Everyone.
Short or long, big or small, open or intensely private and personal; but we all have them.
That’s how it seems. That’s how it is. Because our mental health touches us all, one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent. No-one is immune or impervious. Everyone can tell a story about mental health.
And although it’s self-evident, I’m talking about the quality of our mental health. Too often, the term ‘mental health’ is conflated with poor mental health. We wouldn’t couch questions about someone’s physical health in the same manner which we do about their mental health, but we do.
At best we nervously tip-toe around the issues surrounding mental health, scared of asking the wrong questions or at worst, fail to understand or want to understand, writing off others who are experiencing mental health issues as weak in some way, or lacking resilience or as victims or…just the ‘other’. Not us. No, mental ill health is for others.
Well, there is no ‘other.’
There is the oft-quoted and well-founded statistic that mental ill-health affects 1 in 4 of the population at any one time. The correct and more accurate statistic is that 1 in 4 of the population have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime.
Look around where you are at the moment. In work, in a coffee shop or a pub. On the bus or the train. Maybe just walking down the street. If you’re at home, with your family or friends. Take a count. Every fourth person. 1 in 4.
It might be them. It might be you. But 1 in 4.
And that 1 in 4 figure is no respecter of class, gender, occupation, age, nationality or whatever you want to throw at it.
We’ll continue to do so. This short feature is just one of a number that we’re running during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and we’ll continue to tell the stories after that, because everyone has one.
I am not alone. I have a story about mental health. Or a couple really – one on the way.
My story is not earth-shattering. It’s not related to music or anything that I do in respect of Getintothis. You’ll find no shock revelations or anything that’s going to make you drop your jaw in disbelief or horror. It’s quite ordinary to be honest, yet maybe that’s the way it should be. That’s the way it has to be in the future.
A close member of my family was involved in an accident-not their fault it should be said, but that doesn’t matter I suppose- a few years ago.
Although not physically injured in anything more than a very minor and temporary way, the effect of this accident on their mental health has been dramatically life-changing and for all I see going into the future, permanent.
From being the life and soul of the family, the centre of everything, the very heartbeat of it all, this one accident has resulted in them ending the job they loved, mixing with and supporting people who needed them right across Merseyside and developing anxiety and crippling depression which has made even a short walk down the street a terrifying prospect for them.
And this is where the 1 in 4 statistic glosses over things somewhat. Because although this family member is one of the 1 in 4, the ripple effect on the rest of the family should not be discounted.
Every decision we seem to have to make is fed by it. The simple things, like a trip to the shops, a short holiday, whether to make a cup of tea or coffee, changing the furniture, decorating-everything and anything.
It’s difficult because we are ordinary people. People who were-and to a certain extent, still are- uncertain and unused to talking about mental health. It’s difficult because we didn’t expect it.
But over the past six or seven years we’ve changed. We’ve changed a bit, because we’ve had to. We recognise how our culture discriminates those with mental ill health, we see the stigma, we search and fight for support- and most of all we can talk.
Talking about our mental health and the effects of mental ill-health should be as commonplace as talking about breaking an arm or having an ingrowing toe nail or something as equally prosaic. Can you imagine that? That’s what we should be striving towards.
We need to keep those conversations going. All the time and through whatever avenues we can, whether with friends and family, stray acquaintances, colleagues in work or people we happen to bump into. Through sites like Getintothis. We need to challenge preconceptions, fight stigma and raise awareness.
And my other story?
It’s only just starting.
In my day job, away from editing and writing for Getintothis, I lead a team of a hundred colleagues across a large public sector organisation who are supporting staff and managers in raising awareness of mental health issues, developing skills and providing guidance and signposting to sources of external support for individuals on a one-to-one basis.
All of those 100 colleagues, every single one of them, has talked about their own personal story about mental health. I would imagine that this is replicated wherever you come from or whatever you do.
But last month, I stepped well outside of my comfort zone and decided to take it a bit further by undertaking a quite frankly nerve-jangling attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – all 19,341 feet of it – to support and raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation charity.
As a (presently) very unfit 58-year old grandad and Getintothis writer and editor whose biggest challenge to date is normally wrestling with the monthly Arts Diary, then climbing up the biggest mountain in Africa is a daunting undertaking to say the least.
I’ll have to become radically fitter and healthier beforehand and massively change my lifestyle but this is my small way to raise awareness about mental health, break the stigma and keeping the conversation going.
The attempt is happening in October 2020 so I do have a bit of time to get prepared. However, I need to raise a minimum in sponsorship of £4600 for the Mental Health Foundation beforehand and 100% of all donations, however big or small, go towards the vital work they do. Any amount that anyone wishes to donate would be very gratefully received.
Wish me luck!
And please keep talking- it’s so important.
- You can donate to Rick’s Kilimanjaro 2020 Challenge here and see how I’m getting on here.
- Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation and runs from May 13-19.
- You can call Samaritans free on any phone at any time on 116 123.
- Mind, the Mental Health charity, can be found here.