This morning I awoke to a message from a friend "Look at me standing up for people on a mental health post, am I you now?" She had seen someone share a link to an article related to mental health and immediately shown me what she had commented. My original thoughts were that of pride, one of my closest friends had stood up and spoken for what she believed in. I then asked what the post was and to my utter disbelief it was an article titled Stop Whoring Out Your Undiagnosed 'Mental Illness', Wait, did I read that right? I can't have read that right?. Turns out I had read it correctly. Still in shock at the derogatory language used, I opened the article to read exactly what the author meant. Whilst there are points made within the article that are absolutely valid, such as the statement to seek professional help if you are concerned about your mental health. Other than that, I have a few comments to make about the article (which you can read here).
One of the points made in the article is that you should not 'claim' to have a mental illness without a professional diagnosis. This one I find particularly difficult, because whilst I strongly believe that illnesses should not be trivialised with comments such as "I am so OCD", it is also important to recognise that someone can be ill without a formal diagnosis. I was personally ill a long time before I was officially diagnosed, that however does not mean I am more ill now that I have a 'label', if anything I would say I now have a more positive wellbeing than I did prior to diagnosis. Whilst the stigmatising language needs to be tackled, It also needs to be understood that it is okay to feel down or be having a difficult time, and your emotions are valid. This article states that by labelling yourself delegitimises those with formal diagnosis, this is not the case at all, another persons health does not determine your own, no matter how you feel, no matter how those around you feel, your feelings should never be invalidated. You would never tell someone that they shouldn't feel happy because there is someone that 'has it better', so why do we so often do this with sadness? I believe that discussing our emotions more openly instead of squashing emotions that are not deemed to be 'serious enough', we as a society will create an environment that expresses mental health with greater ease and in turn facilitating mental illnesses to be discussed honestly and openly.
Just like physical health, each and every one of us have mental health. When I have spoken in schools alongside Time to Change we often question the students and staff who has mental health and often only a few hands raise, often slowly and apprehensively. I asked myself why this was, are they simply nervous of raising their hands in front of peers? Do they think raising their hand is them proclaiming they have a mental illness? Are they simply not aware enough on the topic? After discussing this with the students I found it was a mixture, but mainly they associated the term 'mental health' with illnesses rather than a state of wellbeing in which we are all somewhere on the continuum. You can have a serious mental health problem whilst having a positive wellbeing, on the other hand you may have no diagnosable mental health problem, yet have a very poor mental wellbeing.
Whilst I can understand where the author is coming from at points in the article and can see they are trying to tackle stigma, I feel as though invalidating those with poor mental health that do not have a formal diagnosis is unhelpful in that aim. Diagnosis' often take months, even years, so what happens when we are in the void between healthy and ill? No matter where you are on the spectrum you deserve to be treated with support and understanding.
Let me know what your thoughts are on the article, do you find this adds to or reduces stigma surrounding mental health?
Sending positive vibes to all,