As you may have noticed, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Which is wonderful – mental health is something we should all be talking about more. But sometimes when these weeks roll around I can’t help but feel that – much like weddings and funerals – they’re more for the outside world than the people they’re directly about.
Not that that’s a bad thing, because it isn’t. More people speaking out about their struggles with mental health helps to widen the conversation, broaden understanding and decrease stigma. It gives other people the courage to stand up and say “yeah, I feel like that too, it’s totally normal”. Shame is a bugger and anything we as a society can do to make it less embarrassing to admit you see a therapist or have panic attacks sometimes or you had a little cry in the frozen isle of Sainsbury’s earlier because you couldn’t decide what to have for tea (we’ve all been there right?) is a good thing to do.
Awareness though. That’s a weird choice of word. If you struggle with your mental health – even if you haven’t named it – then you’re aware of it. It’s impossible not to be. You may not call it anxiety or depression or PTSD but you’ll be aware of the cloud hovering over you, the voice in your head telling you that everything is wrong, that you are wrong. That voice is inside you, that feeling is inside you and you can’t get away from it and you can’t ignore it. Sometimes, all you want in the world is to have a week when you AREN’T aware of it. A week where the crushing weight of the things inside your head doesn’t even occur to you. A week where you don’t think about your mental health at all, because you don’t have to. What a relief that would be. A week off from the constant battle with your own brain. I wish I could have that. But also I don’t, because my struggles with mental health have shaped and moulded me. They are integral to who I am, and I think I’m okay with who I am, so that means I have to keep them.
So awareness might not be the right word. Maybe visibility is a better one. Mental Health Visibility Week. And aren’t we all always saying that one of the worst things about a mental health condition is that it’s invisible?
The other good thing about visibility is that (in an ideal world) it comes hand in hand with representation. It’s important for people who don’t struggle with their own mental health because it helps them to understand, and it’s important for people who do because it lets us know we’re not alone – YOU ARE NOT ALONE – and it helps to give them words to express how they feel. It is indescribably helpful, when you’re trying to articulate an abstract feeling that you will never find the words for, to just point at a book or a song or tv show and say “That. I feel like that.”
The representation of people living with a mental health condition in the media still isn’t what it should be – in terms of numbers and nuance – but it’s getting better. I’ve seen a lot of things this week celebrating art that has been made (especially books) about mental health. And not all of it represents everybody. That’s a really important thing to remember. Everyone’s mental health is totally unique – depression is not one size fits all – so not everything will be reflective of everyone’s experiences, and that’s ok. But, if you are struggling, or know someone who is, or are just interested, then these are some things that I’ve found helpful or that reflected my journey with mental health, even just a little bit, and I would recommend you check them out:
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (if you only look up one thing on this list, let it be this book), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (embrace the fact it’s a musical, and find it on Netflix), Bojack Horseman (this is a bit raw, it took me like 3 attempts to get into because it was too real), the Next to Normal Original Broadway Cast recording (particularly the song I Miss the Mountains), and Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. This is just a tiny selection, and if you have anything that has helped you with your mental health, or has made you breathe a sigh of relief because it shows that someone else gets it, then get in touch and tell us what it is.
And we want to carry on this conversation. Let’s make sure we’re aware of mental health – our own and each other’s – all the time. So that’s what our new show Open Mic is going to try to do. It’s a bit scary to talk about. It’s hard and a bit embarrassing. But more people speaking out is a good thing… right?
– by Hattie Taylor, writer & director of Open Mic.