May 21, 2012
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week.
You could probably go through a calendar and mark off each week with a label of something or other awareness week. And with all the background noise telling us to be so aware of things, despite the various merits of each cause, it can difficult to focus our attention on any one of them long enough to become aware of it.
Okay so in many cases, awareness can be beneficial in promoting a cause. But in the same way as commercial marketing, some of the really deserving stuff can become lost in the noise. Whilst it may be useful to raise awareness of some things, perhaps others would benefit just as much from support or campaigning in other ways?
Mental health is different. British culture in particular is guilty not only of being unaware of mental health issues, but also of actively not acknowledging them. Many therapists and psychologists have argued that the English ‘stiff upper lip’ is one of the worst ways of dealing with problems. And if I see another product in a home furnishings section with yet another amusing take on the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motto I may burn it in a fit of rage.
Or alternatively perhaps I will create my own propaganda initiative to infiltrate the world of stylish pillows and mugs that will champion my ‘Be Passionate and Throw a Tantrum’ slogan.
The first (and often hardest) step in dealing with most mental health issues is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Although in the short term this can seem time consuming, (wouldn’t it be less hassle to just ‘get on with it’??) we are not robots. Humans are built to operate based on their emotions- in the days of cave men, people didn’t use their intellect to weigh up the pros and cons of things in a cold, balanced way based upon the evidence available. They relied on their emotions and instincts to guide their actions.
Western culture in particular benefits from conditioning people into having efficiency focused thought processes. But whilst this may be useful in maintaining a productive society in the short term, it can be disastrous to individuals in the long term. Do you think of yourself more as a member of society or as an individual person? Perhaps it’s worth prioritising yourself a bit more.
Acknowledging emotions and problems as they arrive- and allowing yourself to really feel them- prevents even worse crashes and breakdowns later on. And you know that if you are going to crash it will come at the least convenient time; when you are tired, ill, or experiencing a number of other problems.
So in the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Week I will say this. If you’re feeling sad, feel sad. If you’re feeling like you need to smash something or throw some paint at the wall, go for it. As movies have taught us (Falling Down, American Beauty), if you bottle things up for long enough, one day you’re bound to snap.
And one last thing. The merits of crying over spilt milk are greatly underrated. Milk is necessary for a nice cup of tea. And tea is essential for the upkeep of the soul.