Why we need to tackle mental health at a social rather than individual level

The sooner we reduce the stigma around mental health, the sooner we stop seeing it as a weakness of the individual.

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If the epidemic was physical we would be checking our food supplies for contamination, but with mental health problems we still put the blame on the individual.

Time and time again we hear that mental health problems are the same as physical health conditions. And I don’t disagree that the effects can be just as crippling – when I was younger I had many days where I couldn’t get out of bed because I was too depressed, or couldn’t be around people because I was too anxious.

Despite the parallels being drawn, however, our conversations around mental health continue to put the emphasis on the individual and the human nervous system – rather than questioning what it is in our society that is causing us to feel this way. Think about it like this – if around 1/4 of the population had a physical illness, our first assumption would be that there is a virus going round, or that water is contaminated or that there is something in the air. There would be an investigation into what in our surroundings is causing us to feel terrible.

Yet when it comes to mental health problems we are very quick to put the blame on our own nervous systems rather than investigating what it is that is causing us to feel anxious/depressed. We say ‘I have anxiety’ or ‘I have depression’ as though it is an unchangeable state of being.

Whilst I think some people are genetically more pre-disposed to having mental health problems due to being more sensitive (myself being included), it still largely comes down to our interaction with the world.

After I was severely depressed/anxious (even getting admitted to A&E), I decided to put all my energy and creativity into finding a solution rather than just accepting that that was just me for life (a life I certainly did not want).

I found that I was significantly more anxious and depressed after spending large amounts of time on my phone/ not speaking to people in real life.

With a lot of my problems having worsened significantly after an abusive relationship, I also began to appreciate the massive impact the people I am close to have on my mental health and self-worth. There were some friends I felt great after spending time with, whilst there were other ‘friends’ that put me down all the time, or didn’t show me respect. Cutting them people out was hard at the time but has helped a lot in the long run.

Acting and improv helped a lot. A lot of the time that I was anxious I realised my main fear was around expressing raw emotion in front of other people, or losing composure. By doing acting and improv I learnt to see that self-expression and vulnerability is a massive strength. Rather than hating myself for being so sensitive and trying to change it, I began to embrace it.

Giving up alcohol, cutting down on caffeine, and eating a much cleaner diet has also helped significantly.

Despite spending around ten years depressed, I wouldn’t say its something I suffer with at all now (although like everyone I obviously have the odd down day or anxious moment).

With one quarter of us experiencing mental health conditions at any given time, I think we should be questioning our lifestyle and conditions a lot more than we do currently.

Modern life and inventions have been great for our health in many ways, giving us new medicine, running water and cheap food. However, there’s also some ways that modern life might be impacting us negatively – such as increased isolation, stress levels, inactive lifestyle and lack of face-to-face communication.

The sooner we reduce the stigma around mental health and stop seeing it as a weakness of the individual, the sooner we can talk openly about it as a community and work together on adjusting the modern lifestyle to better suit our human needs.

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