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Posted 10 Oct 2023

World Mental Health Day 2023: A Journey of Lived Experience

Paul Stevenson, Genius Within Ambassador, discuss his lived experience with mental health.

Negative Impacts of Mental Health Stigma:

On this Mental Health Day, let’s investigate the lived experiences that underscore the harmful effects of mental health stigma. Five negative impacts stand out:

  • Feelings of Shame, Hopelessness, and Isolation: Stigma wraps individuals in feelings of shame, breeding hopelessness and isolation.
  • Reluctance to Seek Help: The stigma surrounding mental health often leads to a reluctance to ask for help or seek treatment.
  • Lack of Understanding by Others: Friends, family, and society at large may struggle to comprehend the nuances of mental health, perpetuating misunderstanding.
  • Limited Employment and Social Opportunities: Stigmatisation may curtail job prospects and social interactions for those grappling with mental health challenges.
  • Historical Perspective: Reflecting on the past, mental health topics were often shrouded in silence. My grandfather’s experience, labeled as ‘bad with his nerves,’ serves as a poignant example.

Personal Journey Through Time:

At 17, facing health concerns, my employer’s response was one of empathy and encouragement, demonstrating a stark contrast to a later encounter. Jumping 20 years forward, as I grappled with potential mental health issues, the response from my boss was less supportive. This discrepancy emphasises the urgent need to reshape the narrative around mental health, treating it with the same gravity as any other life-threatening condition.

Changing the Narrative:

The importance of transforming societal attitudes is evident. Mental health issues should be met with compassion, understanding, and support, not dismissive remarks. We must debunk damaging phrases like “man up” and foster an environment where seeking help is encouraged.

Supporting Individuals with Mental Health Issues:

As individuals, our role in supporting and signposting those facing mental health challenges is crucial. We should take care of how we say things and the language we use. Avoid phrases like “stop feeling sorry for yourself” or “snap out of it.” Instead, listen without judgment, concentrate on their needs, and encourage them to seek professional help.

Responding to a Crisis:

Understanding that individuals with mental health problems may experience crises, we need to respond with empathy:

  • Listen Without Judgment: Create a safe space without making hasty judgments.
  • Ask What Would Help: Tailor your support by asking them what they need.
  • Reassure and Signpost: Provide reassurance and guide them toward practical information and resources.
  • Avoid Confrontation: Confrontation exacerbates crises, so choose a calming approach.
  • Offer to Contact Someone: Inquire if they’d like you to reach out to someone on their behalf.
  • Encourage Seeking Professional Help: Urge them to seek appropriate professional help, fostering a path towards recovery.

On this Mental Health Day, let’s commit to fostering a culture of compassion, empathy, and understanding, dismantling the barriers imposed by stigma.