A Eulogy for Stigma – Why we must get well-being on the agenda in schoolsBlog
Born out of fear and lack of understanding, stigma has marginalised those with mental health difficulties for centuries. Very often anyone suffering with mental illness were seen as outcasts and were viewed with suspicion and fear, even by loved ones.
Stigma develops when we don’t understand something. As human beings, when we can’t explain something, we begin to fear it and often try to bury it or treat it with suspicion. This suspicion or fear can often presents itself as indifference, silent suffering and deep emotional pain. Often it causes those who suffer to bury their pain deep inside, only to have it return with a vengeance and cause them to suffer even more. At its worst it can take away our loved ones and destroy families and communities.
To end a stigma that is so deeply rooted in society is not an easy task, it may take a generation to make significant progress. That is why I believe in the importance of bringing mental well-being education to both primary and secondary schools. If we can teach young people from an early age about positive mental well-being, we have a chance to change the way we look at mental well-being.
Key to this is changing the way we look at mental health. I try to refer to this as mental-well-being or mental fitness. Over time the term mental health has become the victim of dogmatic thinking that has almost vilified the term. If we think about the term mental health rationally, we have to ask ourselves, why, when we think of mental health, do we automatically think of mental illness? Are they the same thing?
The point I always make when discussing well-being is that, when we think of physical health, we don’t think about illness. Instead we think about being fit, healthy, looking good, having lots of energy and motivation to do things and be with people. So why then would we think of mental illness when we think of mental health? When we are mentally healthy, just like when we are physically healthy we feel good about ourselves, we want to do things and we want to be with others. We are proud of ourselves and will tell all our friends when we are physically healthy. However when it comes to well-being we are afraid to mention the topic out of fear of the reaction we will get.
By speaking about mental health or mental fitness in the same way we speak about physical fitness, we will begin to normalise what was once feared and even begin to allow people to be proud of the fact that they take care of their emotional well-being. Much like we need our five a day to keep healthy, (I am not the best at this myself) we also need to do things daily to care for our mental and emotional needs.
Positive mental health education is key to changing how we view this issue. The benefits of learning key skills to take care of yourself are massive. Not only will learning these skills bring about personal growth, it will also have benefits that reach far beyond the individual. If we help people to become mentally healthy, this will have an effect on families and communities. As these groups thrive, the wider population will begin to thrive and this can only have a positive effect on our society and our economy.
If our government realised the powerful impact this could have on our country both for individuals and the economy there would be no question of immediate investment. However for now it is up to us to take this on for ourselves. I would urge anyone to learn as much as they can about positive mental well-being as well as encourage the important people in their lives to do the same, as the effects that it can have on people’s lives is quite simply amazing.
There are lots of little things that you can do to help boost positive mental health, like,
• Getting together with friends.
• Doing a hobby that you love.
• Showing gratitude for the good thing you have in your life.
• Random acts of kindness.
These are just a small sample of the things you can do. Why not take the time to try one today and see how much better you feel afterwards. If you build some of these into your daily life, you will see a huge improvement in your overall well-being. So as well as your five a day, make time for your one a day. The one thing you do to take care of you.
By taking care of ourselves and being proud to do so, we can begin to end this stigma that has caused so much suffering and hurt! We need to move to a holistic approach to both education and how we live our lives. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking care of yourself is not the selfish act that we often perceive it to be. In fact by taking care of ourselves we are much more like to be able to help others. Why not share your tips on the one thing you do to take care of you!
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This is great Alan. A most useful article. Thank you.