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We talk about mental health a fair bit. More and more we see it come up as a topic of discussion on the news, we see celebrities revealing their history of mental health, and we see think tanks, charities, and government bodies releasing statements and papers about the situation. We’re seeing a national shift in attitudes towards mental health, and it’s undoubtedly for the better. So we have to ask ourselves, why is World Mental Health Day still a thing? Why do we still host Mental Health Awareness Week? Have we not reached a saturation in awareness?
The answer to these questions is multi-layered and complicated. It would be easy to argue that our work here is done – to wash our hands clean of the issue, and move on to other topics of activism. Most, if not all students will have a baseline understanding of mental health, or will at least have seen a campaign around the matter. But despite this, the numbers do not match the assumptions. With 19.7% of people in the UK having depressive or anxiety related symptoms, and one person in 15 globally having attempted suicide in their life, it is clear we have a long way to go. But where is this gap?
The causes of mental health issues can often be confusing, but we know that they are not a complete mystery. Workplace stress, academic pressure, family issues, and loneliness can all be contributing factors towards mental illness, along with many, many others. Mental illness can be caused by specific circumstances, or they can be chronic. There is no universal theory or absolute trend that we can use to identify when and where mental health issues will arise, however there are plenty of common themes that we can use to give us an indication at the very least.
Ultimately, there are two gaping holes in the way we deal with mental health – support services and communication. The first is fairly self-explanatory. It’s no secret that mental health services across the country are woefully underfunded, short staffed, and thinly stretched. Radical reform is needed in terms of how we prioritise these services, both on a national and local level. Your VP Welfare and Diversity, Willow Wong has already been lobbying the College to improve the Health Centre, and mental health provision has been a key part of this effort.
The second element is somewhat more complex. We talk about mental health all the time. We talk about statistics and celebrities, about funding, or lack thereof. We talk about mental health, but we talk about it in the abstract. Our awareness is currently focussed on the concept and on erasing stigma, but not on the real, one on one conversations about our own mental health. We neglect the importance of openly discussing our issues in a safe environment, and by doing so the only spaces available to talk about mental health are ones which involve cameras and megaphones. Perhaps it’s time to trade in the TV interviews for a kitchen chat with a friend, a phone call with a parent, or a session with a counsellor.
It’s great to see so many people coming forward into the public sphere with their stories. Their confidence helps to inspire many, and it’s important to acknowledge their bravery. But it’s equally important to encourage those around us to speak quietly. To regularly and sincerely ask “are you okay?”, and to listen without judgement and without interruption.
On World Mental Health Day, it’s time for us to champion the important conversations.
With that in mind, why not join the Royal Holloway Mental Health Network as they host their 'Let's Talk About Mental Health' event on Friday in Munro Fox Seminar Room from 19:00-21:00. They'll be discussing why mental health matters to us, with guest student speakers, and plenty of time to open the floor for discussion.
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