It’s a topic that makes people feel awkward. It’s something that’s been shunned and dismissed by previous generations. But, the ugly truth is right in front of us: the world is in crisis – and we are having a mental health epidemic.
The problem with mental health is, it’s an invisible illness. It’s not a wound that reeks, or oozes of pus, it’s not a stroke that leaves the body physically changed. It’s an illness that attacks our most vital organ – the brain, and in many instances, it is far more deadly than a broken bone. So, why in a modern day mental health epidemic, are we still feeling bad about feeling bad?
To get to the bottom of it, we must first look at why we’re having an epidemic in the first place.
Why are Mental Health Disorders on the Increase?
Depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, personality disorder – the list goes on. The list of illnesses which fall under the remit of mental illness is enormous. The most common ones, anxiety and chronic stress, get a fair amount of airtime, but in modern day life, they’re often downplayed as a lifestyle:
“Oh, I’m so stressed out today. I literally couldn’t sleep last night!” or “Ahhhh! I’m so anxious about going to that party!”
To use such phrases could be seen as demeaning for the individual who’s suffering from ghastly night terrors, or the socially crippled agoraphobic who has to do without fresh milk, because they can’t face a trip to the corner shop and their disability benefits simply don’t stretch to the luxury of an online fresh food order every week.
But whether you’re the first type of person, or the latter, the chances are you’re probably suffering from some sort of mental imbalance – and have probably at some point felt those disabling feelings of shame that are often associated with a psychological illness.
Unfortunately, the fault to blame lies with society.
To explain this, I turn to the words of a personal hero – Ruby Wax – the American Actress/Presenter turned mental health campaigner. Following several nervous breakdowns, Wax began her search for answers as to why exactly psychological disorders around the world were on the rise – and exactly why the staggering statistic of one in four people were likely to experience a mental health episode at some point in their lives.
Here, she explains her findings in a TED Talk:
TL; DR? Shame on you!
Just kidding! Okay, the crux of what Ruby Wax gets at in the video is: our brains simply aren’t built to deal with the pressures of our modern day society. Stripping things back to the core of what a human being is – our brains were made for the cave man age. Our anxious energy basically boiled down to eat and be eaten.
When our existence was threatened, our anxiety acted in a good way – and allowed us the capability of flight or flight. So basically, beat the living life out of a predator, or die trying. There was a healthy, productive way to expel that negative adrenaline and cortisol.
And that was fine. We’d go home, at the end of the day, have a sleep (presumably exhausted from our previous encounter) and life continued as normal. Nowadays, we have far more to contend with.
We don’t typically have a need to run a mile physically from a predator. But we’re surrounded by plenty: rapists, terrorists, Donald Trump’s presidential cabinet, financial instability, airbrushed bodies, hardcore lifestyle gurus – the list goes on and on. The constant bombardment of terror from the news and media does nothing for our everyday mentality.
In the cave man age, we didn’t know what was going on down the road, never mind on the other side of the world.
So basically, our minds are on constant alert – that produces a lot of negative hormones – and guess what constant exposure to negative hormones does? You guessed it, it provides the perfect breeding grounds for a lovely little mental health condition to begin.
What can we do?
The bad news is, we live in a bleak, bleak world.
But the good news is, you’re definitely not alone. The proof is in the media itself – with the publish of a new study every other day relating to the improvements, increases and facts of the mental health epidemic. Knowing that fact in itself, can be reassurance enough. Knowing that your mental health problem is the by-product of a borderline dystopian world, and not for no good reason can be a massive comfort in itself.
But for those in crisis, that isn’t very helpful. Mental health problems are serious medical issues – which shouldn’t be taken lightly, so if you’re struggling and haven’t done so already, go to your GP or get help elsewhere. It’s nothing they haven’t seen before – and it’s not something that’s going to put a “black mark” against your name. Unhelpful myths like the aforementioned are the result of generations gone by, where less was known, and ignorance was bliss.
The truth is, mental health is like any other illness or condition – you shouldn’t be discriminated against, and your information stays confidential – just as if you’d be diagnosed with Diabetes or Asthma. Who knows is at your discretion.
If you’ve already taken that first step, there are other things you can do in your day to day life to help you cope.
Begin a self-care programme. Day to day life is busy – and it’s easy to get caught up in it all. Before you know it, you’re burning out – a serious problem. Take the time to do something for yourself at least once a week – and increase as needed. Paint your nails, go for a massage, go shopping, practice mindfulness. Whatever makes you feel better.
Treat it as a medicine. You wouldn’t, after all, stop taking tablets for an infection because you were too busy, would you?
One of the biggest problems affecting those with anxiety is the inability to switch off. In a world, where scrolling online for an average for over an hour and a half a day is the norm, it’s no wonder when we finally go to switch off for the night, our minds are buzzing. Consider the amount of information you take in – from news sites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. It’s the biological equivalent of opening Photoshop, Microsoft Word, Spotify and 40 Chrome Tabs on a Windows 1998 computer all at the same time. You’re going to freeze up and take forever to finally log off.
Try switching your phone off at night, or at the very least, putting it away for an hour or two before you settle down for the evening.
Much like the cave man versus predator analogy, exercise will help to provide you with the artificial means to create Endorphins – or positive brain hormones to combat against day to day stresses. If you’re not particularly active, this initially will seem like a boring, more-hassle-than-its-worth challenge, but the benefits of exercise for mental health are irrefutable. You’d be a right dafty not to at least try.
The Mental Health Epidemic – Why do we care?
The mental health epidemic is something everyone should have a personal stake in. In today’s day and age, you’d be hard pressed not to be at least related to an immediate family member with a mental health problem. This problem doesn’t affect a faceless majority – it affects me, you and everybody we love.
We’re all at risk. Mental health doesn’t discriminate – and neither should we.