Mental Health Awareness Week: What is it and why is it important?

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What Is Mental Health Awareness Week?

This year’s MHAW is well underway (trending under the hashtag #MHAW16), taking place from May 16th to the 22nd with the theme ‘relationships’, spanning both personal and workplace relationships. Mental Health Awareness Week (also known as Mental Illness Awareness Week) is a week in the Social calendar where charities, organisations and the media make a buzz around the subject of mental health, to raise awareness and kickstart potentially crucial conversations.

But What Does It All Mean?

Mental Health is a topic which has always been surrounded by confusion, stigma and controversy, despite most of us having experienced its effects either personally or through a loved one at some stage in our lives. Even in this digital age where society has gradually acclimatised to sharing intimate details across social platforms, mental health still leaves people with a crippling fear of judgement or criticism.

The term ‘mental health’ itself is so broad, meaning many things to many people. Diagnosis is often a difficult and uncertain process, with negative perceptions of some diagnoses as labels; Mental Health conditions versus mental health issues versus mental Health problems- the semantics give rather disparate connotations and spawn various perceptions of those who identify them.

There are various mental health organisations across the UK who work tirelessly year-round to shine a light on taboo topics which have so often been left in the dark, addressing issues surrounding conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bipolar and schizophrenia. They take real stories from real people who talk about what it’s like to live with a mental health condition, be it themselves or a loved one, and how it can affect everyday life..

What’s clear from many sources is this: just as we strive to have good physical health, our mental wellbeing and mindfulness should be granted equal priority. Identifying when we need help can be both confusing and frightening.   

A Personal Experience

Heather, our Social Media Expert, talks about her experience with mental health issues.

“Having experienced the effects of mental health many times throughout my life, I personally am all too aware of why Mental Health Awareness Week is so important.

My mother was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic when she was just 40 years old, though she had been suffering ill mental health for the majority of her adult life. Despite being a nurse herself and constantly around the medical community, her illness wasn’t identified until her symptoms raised flags with a new family GP. It was a tough time and a difficult process especially for me as a teenager.” Heather was her mother’s carer for a time.

“Going from child to parent in such a short space of time was a shock to the system and though I took care of my mother with no complaint, there wasn’t anyone around me for support or even anyone who could relate to my situation. It was an isolating experience for both my mother and myself as the carer. Though she struggled through therapy and medication, she sadly ended up taking her own life 4 years after her diagnosis.

Dealing with this has lead to some mental health struggles of my own, and it wasn’t until after my mother’s death I realised how little information we are given about mental health before we find ourselves face to face with it. The response to my decision to receive help has been mostly positive, with family, friends and coworkers offering support when it’s needed. Opening up and talking about my mental health to those I trust has been a trying but ultimately rewarding decision and I feel more secure in my relationships, both at home and in the workplace than ever before.”

Why MHAW Is Important

Though a lot of amazing work by dedicated organisations is being done and mental health is more talked about than ever before, there is still a way to go before attitudes change and the fear of stigma dissipates. There are still hundreds of people across the UK who have been struggling without help for years and it’s only through awareness, education and communication that we can begin to break down the obstacles surrounding what should be such an important subject for us all.

It’s often the very first conversation, the one that starts it all, that’s the toughest one. But as Heather learned, it’s the key to beginning a journey towards understanding and acceptance, and more importantly, recovery.

UK Mental Health Statistics

  • It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
  • In England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
  • Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.
  • 10% of mothers and 6% of fathers in the UK have mental health problems at any given time.
  • 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
  • In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK.
  • Depression affects around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over, yet it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

Written by
Evergreen Life

Article updated:
May 20, 2016
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