21 May, 2021 | Posted by Marguerita Magennis

Mental Health Awareness and Saying No to Stigma

mental health awareness

In recent years there has been a rise in societal awareness, and thankfully we have come a long way towards making much-needed changes in respect of understanding and accepting that mental health is something that the majority of us will experience in some shape or form throughout our lifetime.

These changes include moves towards reducing and removing the stigma which historically has been attached to mental wellbeing. However, we have a long way to go before we have reached where we need to be in terms of accepting and supporting friends, relations, and ourselves in this respect.

Having worked for years in counseling and psychotherapy, it is all too evident when I meet clients, that they have a feeling of embarrassment and discomfort, with comments like "I should be able to cope", and "nobody else feels this way". The thing is they do!

Otherwise, I would spend most days sitting alone in an office looking out at the world go by.

So, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone with these feelings. I would safely say that everyone feels down, goes through periods of depression, and feeling unable to cope or overly anxious at some stage in their life for one reason or another, and most of us live with, or know a person who suffers from bouts of depression and mental illness.

More recently, the current pandemic has resulted in serious mental health struggles for people of various ages, and for some of us, we will have found that very often the support just isn't there. It isn't always easy to find affordable, accessible support immediately it is needed, and for some of us, even getting up the courage to take that initial step and ask for help, can be overwhelming, and brings with it a surge in the very feelings which have resulted in our current state of mind.

It is therefore vital that we speak out, and not just during Mental Health Week, but every day! It is time for us to become a society that listens and shows an understanding of the stresses that life can throw our way. We need to work together and raise awareness, to help build resilience amongst our children so they learn to cope with life and all that it brings, not just the fun bits. To support family and friends and open our eyes and ears to the needs of others.

As a society, it is time to fight for change, encourage recognition and acceptance of mental health as something which can impact on the lives of anyone, and that many of us have or will experience; thus, removing the stigma related to mental health issues.

Personal Experience

A few weekends back, Sunday morning, I was faced with numerous photos and images of people completing the darkness into light vigil for Pieta house, and it drew my memory back to times when my personal family experience of mental illness could have ended very differently.

A time that still causes struggles many years on, and brings with it memories of the numerous subtle signals and cries for help... For so many young and old, the responses to depression, stress and anxiety or just feeling down, can often be dismissive or go unnoticed due to the rat race and rush of life, that we find ourselves caught up in.

I am thankful that we have moved from a society where historically we would have been told to "shake it off", or pretending things are normal, we do now tend to show a greater awareness of the individual needs of people during stressful situations, both in work and home life.

To have someone listen or have someone take you seriously in that one moment of desperation; a kind word, or a smile, can be all that is needed to make or break a person during this turmoil.

Being Aware of the Signs

Of late publicity tends to focus on the "individual" telling us to open up, to speak freely about mental illness; but for anyone who has been in this situation, that is easier said than done, and for the person experiencing these feelings of desperation and despair, mustering up the courage to speak with someone can add to an already difficult situation.

The slogan "no to stigma" tells us to look out for ourselves and to be aware of our mental health, seek help; but the onus sits also with others, and we need to stop and consider how can we as a society help others as well as ourselves.

One way of providing help is to be aware of the signs of depression:

  • Note changes in personality, if a person becomes irritable or displays signs of long-lasting sadness, easily emotional or withdrawn.
  • Do they display changes in mood, high and low episodes?
  • Display new or prolonged periods of fear, anxiety, worry or agitation.
  • Have they become socially withdrawn, unusually quiet and not wanting to mix with friends or family?
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Insomnia or changes in sleeping habits, for instance, sleeping excessively.
  • Changes in personal hygiene.

This blog post was written by Marguerita Magennis, Course Coordinator for the Masters in Early Childhood Studies & Lead Lecturer BA Hons degree Early Childhood Studies at Portobello Institute.

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