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Beyond Mental Health Awareness Week: How to de-stigmatise mental health issues amongst students


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Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK has just ended - and ahough we’ve certainly come a long way in opening up conversations, there is still a long way to go.

Many mental health disorders are still largely stigmatised, particularly amongst students, for many reasons. Some illness, particularly depression and anxiety, have become very topical. However, as terms, they are becoming overused to the point where they are losing their severity. An exemplification of this is when Jack and Danis' Love Island breakup triggered a widespread ‘depression’ amongst fans.

Image Credit: Skeeze on Pixabay.

Such illnesses have almost lost their meaning – it has almost become trivial and normalised amongst many young people to say that they are ‘anxious’, ‘depressed’ or that they've ‘nearly had a panic attack’, undermining the genuine severity of depression and anxiety. And so, when students are faced with students or friends who are actually experiencing a panic attack or a period of depression, many don’t know how to deal with it if they don’t have their own experiences. In some cases, students may say insensitive things, such as ‘what do you have to be depressed about?’ or ‘calm down’, which do far more harm and isolate the person within their issues.

Education is paramount to understanding; even if you can’t comprehend someone’s mental illness, it doesn’t invalidate someone else’s experience of it.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, contributors of The National Student wrote about mental health issues such as schizophrenia, which need far more education surrounding them – those with little or no conversation within the student community, once again perpetuating negative stereotypes of ‘madness’ or ‘instability’. This is far from the case.

To follow on from Mental Health Awareness Week we spoke to Mind, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities, on how students can combat mental health stigma that they are facing. On their website, you can find information on several mental health issues, and, importantly, you can also find tips on how to support a loved one or friends. These can be useful to send to people if you feel like you are not being understood or supported properly.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, says:

“One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Thankfully, we’ve seen the national conversation on mental health move forward considerably in recent years. There has been a sea change in public attitudes over the past decade, with movements like Time to Change’s annual campaign Time to Talk Day - which brings the nation together to get talking and break the silence around mental health problems.

"However, not everyone understands mental health problems. Some people may have misconceptions about what certain diagnoses mean. They may also use language you find dismissive, offensive or hurtful. This can be very upsetting – especially if someone who feels this way is a family member, friend or a healthcare professional."

Here are some tips from Mind on what you can do if you are experiencing stigma or discrimination for your mental health problem:

  • Show people reliable information to help them understand more about what your diagnosis really means. You can find reliable information in our pages on types of mental health problems
  • Get more involved in your treatment. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for guidance on having your say in your treatment, making your voice heard, and steps you can take if you’re not happy with your care
  • Contact an advocate. An advocate is someone who can support your choices and help you make your voice heard (see our pages on advocacy for more information)
  • Know your rights. Our pages on your legal rights provide information on your rights in a wide range of situations
  • Talk about your experience. Sharing your story can help improve people’s understanding and change their attitudes (see our blogs pages to read about other people’s experiences, and find out how to blog for Mind)
  • Get involved in a campaign. Time to Change and Time to Change Wales organise national campaigns to end stigma and discrimination towards mental health problems. You can also look at our campaigns page for details of the different ways you can get involved with Mind.
Stephen continues: "If you’re not feeling quite right and feel like you might need support, it’s always okay to ask for help.

"Whether you have a diagnosis or not, we’d recommend starting with your GP who could offer you support and treatment, or refer you to a specialist service. We have information to help you speak to your GP, and what to do if you aren’t getting the support you need, which you can find here.”

Though social media can be used irresponsibly by those who perpetuate negative stereotypes surrounding mental health issues, it is not inherently bad and can, in fact, be used for good. You can also engage in several responsible, positive online communities with people who know exactly what you’re going through. This can be on sites such as The Mix, or joining a mental health community with advocates on Twitter. For example, we recently spoke to mental health advocate Lorna, who is using her social media platform to speak out on her experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Nobody should feel afraid to talk about mental health issues: everyone deserves support, whether this is from family or friends or is sought professionally. If a disorder is affecting your day to day life, then there is no shame in seeking help, in the same way that there wouldn’t be shame in seeking help for a physical injury.

If friends and family members don’t seem to understand at first, don’t hesitate to educate them on how you are feeling – they may just need some information to begin to empathise and to support you in the way that you choose. However, as Stephen has said, it’s important to know your rights and know when you might be being discriminated against - particularly in the workplace, for example.

If you are suffering from a mental health issue, contact your GP or local wellbeing service. For more information, see Mind or the NHS.

Lead Image Credit: Skeeze on Pixabay.

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