There is a battle going on around mental health awareness at present and it is a long, hard campaign. A lack of understanding, long rooted bias and negative experiences all make it difficult for people to change attitudes to mental health. Soldiers need weapons for the fight and for anyone who is campaigning to improve the way mental health is viewed and treated in society, we have three important weapons at our disposal.
First, let us clarify the rather combative metaphor that this is a battle. This is not intended as a means of drumming up support, passion or even aggression. This is intended to be a call to arms for people who are willing to make an effort to increase awareness, raise funding for charitable causes, tackle unacceptable behaviours, help strangers or loved ones or anyone who needs it. There are many ways to make a difference from running a marathon to attending an event to writing a blog...
I have been campaigning for years in many different ways. I give talks to organisations about my journey with depression and suicide; I attend local, regional and national wellbeing events and conferences; I hold conversations with individuals in professional and social environments; I contribute to polls, campaigns and even student research to add my voice to the cause; I study and investigate to prepare myself to help anyone in any way at any time. All of this is just a fraction of the collective experience that people like me can bring to the battle.
I have come to realise that there are three important...what would you call them? Skills? Capabilities? Aspects of humanity? For now, let us stick with the term 'weapons' and explore what they mean to people who want to make a difference.
I talk a lot about my story, the journey I have been on for over 20 years in dealing with my depression and the various challenges that have come hand in hand with it. I talk honestly, from the heart, because I believe it makes a difference. I am not seeking sympathy or attention, I am trying to put an honest story in front of people who may need to hear it. Honesty is rarely the only step on this journey.
Honesty comes in many forms but in relation to one's own mental health, it can mean being honest that you have a problem and that you need help. Sometimes this can include being honest with yourself if you need to change your opinions and attitudes about mental health (a difficult admission for most). The truth is difficult to hear and we need to be brave to take words to heart. Honesty also means listening with an open mind when you hear someone's story.
I often get feedback after giving one of my talks that I was very brave to stand up in front of people and talk about my past. I often take those words as they are intended but in truth, I think the brave ones are the people who respond to my story. They listen and hear something in my words that gives them the courage to stand up to their own problems. That is true courage.
Sometimes you can see bravery reflected in the people you speak with when you are campaigning about mental health. I have been humbled in fact by the number of people who come up to me (purely because I am wearing a certain t-shirt or standing in front of a banner relating to the subject) and begin talking. There is nothing quite so brave as finding a stranger to open up about your own story.
Maybe the greatest of these is hope? I have lost count of the number of people who have spoken with me about mental health and left with a fraction more positivity about their own problems. It is difficult sometimes to put my own story into words that speak of the challenges I had along the way with the hope that it is possible to come through the other side better for it.
Raising awareness of what mental health is comes with the responsibility of raising hope in those suffering from poor wellbeing. It is possible to tell a sad tale with a happy ending but we must treat these stories with care and use them responsibly. Hope can be a weapon and it can be dangerous to use it unwisely but ultimately, it can save lives too.
So with any luck, this gives you an idea about the foundations of being an effective campaigner for mental health awareness. People with lived experience can make a real difference in this battle, they are the soldiers fighting to stop such negativity from ruining peoples lives. We can all make a difference, you don't have to be a qualified mental health professional to ask if someone is okay or listen when someone says that they are not. With these three weapons at your disposal, you can help to win the war and defeat the negativity around mental health.