Mental health: Once a taboo and misunderstood subject, but fast-becoming a key focus for anyone who wishes to live their life to the full.
Wellness, mindfulness, identity, self-appreciation… all concepts that have crept into the mainstream mindset in recent years – and thank goodness for that. As little as 10 years ago, while we were all fully cognisant of the importance of eating healthily and exercising our body on a regular basis, it was still considered an uncomfortable subject to acknowledge – or worse still – address, mental health issues. And yet, the self has long been acknowledged as being both body and mind, both requiring equal amounts of care and attention.
The world has a lot to thank Oprah for, one of her greatest contributions being the way in which she has opened up discussions around real feelings, emotional openness and vulnerability – which she has been doing for considerably longer than the past 10 years. Recently however she addressed mental health issues specifically, bringing to the world’s attention the plight of those suffering in silence, ashamed to disclose their mental health problems in the fear of judgement from others.
Prince Harry is another public figure, currently even more in the limelight than usual, who has opened up admirably about his own mental health issues, sparked by the untimely loss of his mother when he was just 12 years old. He has certainly used his influential status for good in publicising the need to talk about, share and move through a wide range of mental health issues. His charity organisation Heads Together has had a profound impact on the way that Britons talk about mental health, but according to the Royal Foundation, there are still further steps to be taken.
As the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, demonstrated, death does not discriminate. The same is of course true of other unforeseen catastrophes in life – disease, injuries, violence. Death is of course one of the most cataclysmic ways of forcing those left behind to address their own mental wellbeing, if they are to stand a chance of surviving unthinkable loss.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has spoken out very openly on the impact of the sudden death of her 47-year-old husband, sharing her grief publicly and harnessing Facebook’s most powerful purpose by creating social networking groups wherein people can connect and share with others facing similar challenges. Although her experience was specifically around loss, she has widened the reach to include an array of adversities that humans face, and has created groups for coping with assault, family challenges, illness, incarceration and more.
Hundreds of memes are shared every day on social media about building resilience, coping with the curveballs that life throws, and playing the hand we’ve been dealt. As has always been the case, humans are social creatures who seek acknowledgement, reinforcement and connectedness with others. The digital world has created ways of doing this that weren’t imaginable a couple of decades ago.
And yet, in order to really grapple with and move through mental health issues, there is still no substitute for a real-life engagement with a qualified professional. The digital world is starting to play a greater role in making these professionals more accessible to the public. Websites like TherapyRoute.com enable people to search for and find mental health practitioners who can best address their needs. Social media has enabled professionals to start sharing their research and thoughts globally, facilitating discussions that ultimately enable them to be better therapists.
One in four people suffers from mental health issues at some point of their lives. The good news is that, thanks to the digitalisation of search plus the honest vulnerability that is increasingly shared by respected celebrities; seeking mental health support has never been as accessible or well-supported as it is today.