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Ending the stigma surrounding mental health


Sarah Piddington

BY: Sarah Piddington / 20th Jan

January and February see the highest rates of suicide every year in the UK. Credit card statements from Christmas roll in. The joys of the holidays abruptly end with a return to work. Or maybe Christmas and New Year aren’t a special time at all, and the New Year brings with it a serious case of the blues. Now is the perfect time to talk about mental illness and depression.

Some interesting facts:

  • Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20 – 49 in England and Wales
  • One person in fifteen has made a suicide attempt at some point in their life
  • 10% of mothers and 6% of fathers in the UK have mental health problems at any given time
  • Thinking about the workplace, 1 in 6 employees are currently suffering from some form of mental health issue

We can agree that this is a huge problem, both at home and at work. So why the stigma?! It appears that society doesn’t have the ability to deal with its issues of fear and shame around subjects like mental illness. There’s a fear or inability to rationally discuss it.

Mental illness: LABEL. Depression: LABEL.

That stigma is like putting a stamp on someone’s head saying they’re defective. If you had a broken leg or high blood pressure, you’d seek help – there’s no stigma attached. Why not seek help when your brain (the most complex organism known to man!) is hurting?

WHY NOT?

  • Because we’re afraid to talk about
  • Fear of judgments, negative perceptions, labels and stigmas
  • And we’re scared of what our employer will do. If you go in and say you’re depressed or suicidal, there’s a good chance they’ll make you go off sick, and then you’re alone and isolated at home, which makes the problem worse

Normal emotions; physiological states in response to both internal and external experiences:

  • Fear: a peak state; normal to have in an unusual situation – you’re going to get into a fight or if you’re in a tough spot; the fight or flight mechanism kicks in and that’s what helps you survive
  • Shame: feeling that your actions don’t meet up to your standards
  • Love

A common tendency of emotions is to be appropriate, moderate and transient:

  • Appropriate: I fibbed to a friend about something; I felt a bit guilty about it later
  • Moderate: the level of guilt I feel concerning this isn’t something that tortures me for the next 10 years. Felt guilty, confessed to my friend that I wasn’t as honest as I should’ve been
  • Transient: the emotions have a lifespan. I felt guilty. This was more than enough to show I shouldn’t have done it. I apologised, it’s no big deal

Carried emotions are usually not considered normal; they are ‘inherited’ or learned:

  • Carried shame: when you’re holding onto someone else’s stuff
  • Abject fear: can cause us to see danger where it doesn’t exist
  • Rage: a person doesn’t feel rage (such as road rage) unless they’ve been taught rage

Just like understanding an appropriate emotion, an inappropriate emotion such as road rage, is when you’re driving and someone cuts you off, and you don’t just toot your horn for a second – instead you lay on your horn for 10 seconds, yell at them and let your day be ruined due to a minor transgression.

Societal fear and shame, is, in my opinion, the reason people aren’t opening up and discussing their depressions, their fears, their suicidal ideations, and the shame that comes with having these feelings. Talking about your feelings is an excellent way to process them. The old adage of “a problem shared is a problem halved” is so true.

If you don’t talk about it:

  • It’ll contribute to your mental health in a negative way
  • You’ll have another traumatic experience to add to your existing mound of traumatic experiences
  • You may be one step closer to feeling like there’s no hope

There is no such thing as ‘no hope.’ People love you. Your life is important.

Mental Health Matters. Let’s talk about it.


Sarah Piddington

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