I have a problem with certain weeks or months that are dedicated to raising awareness about an issue because I think for a lot of people it is all about hashtags on Twitter, but the meaning of what the awareness really stands for is lost.
When it comes to serious issues like Mental Health Awareness, the meaning of it runs so much deeper for those who are affected by mental illness daily and for those who have lost their lives or loved ones because of it. A few years ago I was seriously struggling. It’s safe to say I was struggling to survive and fighting for my life during a depressive downturn. Depression came and wanted to take me with it.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced depression before, it is easy to look at others and judge and make assumptions. But it is a serious illness that is all going on in your head, and for the people who endure this battle, they are trying their hardest, every single day to live the best way that they can with it. But it is far from easy.
When I think of what Mental Health Awareness Week really means, I think about the men and women who have been hospitalised for wanting to take their lives and have had to be around other sick people, in an environment that preaches about recovery but its actions do not always reflect it. I think about all the ordinary people who are struggling to get help with their mental health and others who are struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis’ and the ones who have lost their lives. I think about the shame and the stigma that is associated with mental illness and the overall heaviness that the discussion brings in general. I think about the stigma my mum faced as a Christian, Black woman who struggles with depression and takes medication for it because of the stigma around Mental Health still found in religious and black communities. I think about the people who are struggling right now and are contemplating suicide at this very moment because it is no secret that someone commits suicide every 40 seconds worldwide (WHO, 2016).
When I think about the significance of Mental Health Awareness Week, I think about it for the unedited truth that it is and to me, it is something that is far more than just a hashtag. Weeks and months that are dedicated to a certain issue mean so much more than I believe they are advertised for. For most people, companies or government staff Mental Health Awareness Week felt like a tick box exercise, like fulfilling a task rather than trying to evoke real change. Mental illness is something that I feel, like a lot of things, can be sensationalised and glossed over because the realness of it may be too real for an audience who just wants to see the filtered truth and keep it moving.
I will say this: Everyone knows someone, who knows someone with a mental illness and there is no shame in talking about it. Someone has a mother, an aunty, a brother, a friend, or a sister who is struggling or has lost their lives. It runs deep in the family and is, in fact, the secret we all share. For the future, let’s treat Mental Health Awareness Week for what it really is, and dissect its truth. Lets not just highlight it on Awareness Weeks but let’s talk about it every day and work to evoke real change.