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Mental Illness: Let's get rid of this pointless stigma


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With one in six British adults experiencing mental illness in their lifetime, isn't it about time we got rid of the stigma that surrounds it?

There is no shortage of statistics such as this when it comes to mental illness; the Office for National Statistics along with charities such as Mind and The Samaritans have spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of information available at your fingertips if numbercrunching is what gets you going.

In reality however, simply looking at a set of numbers, facts and figures can in no way, shape or form give you even a pixels worth of the picture.

I'll give you some of those juicy stats to start with, however. There is a worryingly high figure in the UK that one in four British adults will experience at least one diagnosable mental illness in the space of a year, but this figure does not contribute to the astonishing 450 million people worldwide who suffer with a diagnosed mental illness. There is also something of a gender gap when it comes to mental illness, with 60% of people suffering OCD being women. Men in the UK are however  three times as likely to die of suicide than women, with suicide being the largest cause of death in men under 35 years old.

Let that sink in for a moment. Suicide, is the biggest cause of death in men under 35 years old: not cancer, not coronary heart disease, not diabetes, but suicide. Yet there is a stigma in society that says mental illness is a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of and something which we shouldn't talk about. I want to share my own experience with you and assure you that that is a load of crap.

At the age of 17 I saw a drastic decline in my own mental health; I had very little appetite, I became an insomniac, I found no enjoyment in my regular activities and more importantly I found that I completely undermined my own self-worth.

This resulted, at the age of 18, in me seriously contemplating taking my own life.

Fortunately I made it through that particular bad episode, but I am far from being alone in that experience. Statistics show that 20% of under 18s suffer at least one mental illness in the space of a year and the number of young people being admitted to hospital for self-harm has increased by 65% in the last decade.

I, like so many others, continued on my own, suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts for three years before I eventually built up the courage to seek medical help. Now armed with prescription meds and the support of my family, I'm able to tackle my mental illness head on.

But it should never have taken me so long to get help, it shouldn't take anybody that long to get help. If a woman found a lump in her breast would she be ashamed to go and see a doctor? My guess is no. If you started coughing up blood would you hide it from family and friends because you were worried they'd tell you to get over it? I'm going to say no again.

Why then do we allow such a stigma to be attached to mental illness? My answer is that for too long we have allowed societal expectations to dominate our reality. Emotional experiences are undervalued and those suffering with mental illness are seen as weak and cowardly. This stigma is particularly damaging to young men such as myself to whom society says "man up and get over it, it's not manly to cry!".

Organisations like Time to Change and Mind have worked tirellesly over the years to try and change the perceptions of mental health, but we as a society have a long way to go. If you're reading this and you're worried about your mental health then I emplore you to talk to a professional, talk to your friends, talk to anyone you think will listen. I promise you that arming yourself with the information and support you need will be a breath of fresh air when you feel like you're drowning. To the people out there who doubt the validty of depression and other mental illnesses, I would not wish my experience on my worst enemy, instead I would suggest educating yourselves in the stories of those who have suffered with long term mental illness.

Compassion is a beautiful thing.

If you've been affected by anything discussed in this article or want to talk about your own mental health then contact The Samaritans on 116 123. They're open 24/7, the line is free to call and they're here to help.

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