The term Mental Health involves how we feel about ourselves, others and how we are able to meet the demands of life, ranging from minor anxieties in everyday life such as relationships or career pressures, to larger serious problems with severe and distressing psychological symptoms that require some method of professional help due to normal cognitive functioning being impaired.
Mental health problems are very common, in fact a quarter of the population will experience some form of issue during the course of a year whether that be neurotic symptoms such as depression and anxiety, or psychotic symptoms including hallucinations. Sadly, mental illness is still surrounded with a huge amount of prejudice due to the negative stereotype that society has created through using derogatory terms such as ‘crazy’ and ‘psycho’, and even high street supermarkets releasing ‘mental patient’ Halloween costumes that further stigmatise people with mental health issues. Furthermore, a large number of people keep their problems and feelings hidden because they fear being further isolated and excluded from social groups, as well as losing out on opportunities in the work place.
But mental health should not be something that we ignore and avoid. Talking about mental health helps to eliminate these negative stereotypes that permeate communities and society, and encouragespeople to fully understand that mental illnesses do not define a person and this is exactly what the ‘Time to Change’ programme is aiming to do. Led by two leading mental health charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness as well as being supported by celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Davina McCall, the ‘Time to Change’ programme has become England's biggest project to challenge the mental health stigma. It aims to improve public attitudes towards mental health, reduce discrimination and increase the confidence of those suffering to address this discrimination should it occur. There is also a great effort to encourage those experiencing a form of mental illness to seek help and support from one of the numerous services available, through schools or universities, professional medical help through GP’s, or through charities such as MIND.
At Loughborough University specifically, there are a number of services put in place to support students experiencing mental health difficulties in a variety of forms from one on one counselling with the Mental Health Team through to the Health and Wellbeing website which offers advice and information in a non invasive way. There is also the HeadsUp! student led mental health group which aims to promote positive mental health and increase awareness by launching campaigns and hosting regular inclusive social events. And on top of all of this, there is also the annual Mental Health Day and Health and Wellbeing Week.
I always think every one of us is one very short step away from mental illness, we all have very different coping mechanisms and when our daily lives change through stress, bereavement, loss, unemployment, none of us know how we would personally cope and react. The important thing is that when we recognise signs of mental illness in others, we treat it with respect, understanding, empathy and compassion…Because one day it could be you.