Loose Ends At The Start of Mental Health Awareness Week

For some weeks now I have had it firmly in my mind that 10 October is World Mental Health Day.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website it is 10 October (Wednesday), but for some reason I had stuck in my head that it was Tuesday (today).  A bit of searching, and I’ve found that in some places World Mental Health Day is being marked on 9 October (today).  No wonder I’m confused.  You’d think that if we were going to have a World Day we’d make sure we all did it on the same day.  But then maybe that would be too logical.

I did more searching and confirmed that here in New Zealand the occasion is definitely Wednesday, and so what I was going to post today will wait for tomorrow.  In New Zealand, it is also Mental Health Awareness Week all week so I am going to try to acknowledge that in my posts this week.

The topic of World Mental Health Day was chosen by WHO as ‘Depression: A Global Crisis’.  I like this topic because Depression has become such a wide-spread problem around the world and I believe it needs talking about.

Some months ago (Mental Health versus Mental Illness… a Stigma Issue?) I wrote about some questions being raised by people about this chosen topic, on the basis that they felt Depression was too much of a negative topic.  I still think this is a shame.  Depression has a huge impact on people’s mental health and so needs to be addressed openly.

Interestingly in New Zealand, there is a lot of work done to raise the issue of Depression, with Depression. org and The Lowdown (aimed at young people) leading the way.  I really like what I’ve seen of these programmes, and are helping to spread the awareness that Depression can affect everyone.  That said, the NZ Mental Health Foundation  here, is promoting the subject of mindfulness this week, rather than Depression.  Mindfulness is certainly something that everyone, whether or not the have a mental illness, could benefit from in terms of their mental health but there is a part of me that wishes they had addressed the issue of Depression as well.  Maybe that’s just my bias.

Only in this past week, I learnt more about the growing battle between the use of the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’.  Some people don’t want to focus on mental illness, because it’s negative like I said earlier; but then there are others who find the use of the term ‘mental health’ an insult.  Apparently the term ‘mental health’ is stigmatizing, because it  ignores that mental illness exists.

I think I’m getting a headache!

Where do I stand on this?  I will fight against anything that adds to the stigma of mental illness, but personally I believe there is a place for both terms.  I have a mental illness which I am completely open about.  I am not going to run from the term ‘mental illness’ because it is factual and is my reality.  It is no different from the physical illnesses that are my reality.

That said, I think for me it is still possible for me to achieve mental health in spite of my mental illness.  It might sound a bit weird, but if I can manage my symptoms and function well while still having the mental illness, I call that mental health for me.  So I’m inclined to say that there is definitely room for both terms.

Dare I say it, but I think those on the side of wanting to refer to everything as ‘mental health’ are being unrealistic.  Mental illness does exist and we can’t, or shouldn’t hide from it.  But those who want to ignore the existence of ‘mental health’ are perhaps being a little precious.  Again, mental health exists and is something we can all work towards in our own ways.

Here’s an idea.  Let’s stop fussing over which term is used and get on with working on reducing and managing mental illness where possible, so that mental health can be experienced by as many people as possible.  If we argue of the terminology too much we run the risk of ignoring the real problems.

PS.  If I offended anyone with this post… I guess I’m getting used to that.  This is simply my opinion, neither right nor wrong.

It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.” 

―    Sam Harris,   The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

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3 thoughts on “Loose Ends At The Start of Mental Health Awareness Week

  1. Pingback: What Battles To Fight? | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

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