14 October 2016

Why do we Romanticise Mental Health?

Today I wanted to write about something that has been brought to my attention this week, and that is how much we romanticise mental health. If you didn't already know (and if you didn't then where have you been?) this week is mental health awareness week. It has made me so happy to see people being open about their mental health problems and helping other people come to terms with theirs. 

On Monday morning I walked into my lecture theatre and took my usual seat on the fifth row, in the middle, in front of a group of people I'm pretty sure I've never seen before in my life. Uni is an extremely weird place because you walk into lecture every week seeing someone new; I swear half the people who come to my lectures aren't even on my course, but that's beside the point. We all sat there, as usual, scrolling through our phones waiting for our lecturer to start talking. As I sat waiting, I overheard a conversation between the group of girls who were sat behind me, the conversation went as follows: 
'Oh god, have you seen what's trending on Twitter?'
'No What?'
"It's apparently World Mental Health Day'
'And why exactly do we need a day for mental health?'
'I don't even know' *laughs* 'Have you heard about Emily'
'Oh shit yeah, the anxiety thing'
'Attention seeking as always' 
And that's all I'm going to share with you because that was the point when I tuned myself out of the conversation because it was already making my blood boil. Firstly, lets address the first question asked by this clearly unintelligent human being, why do we need a day for mental health? Well, we need it because of people like you, people who completely dismiss mental illnesses as illnesses.

 It's a wonderful thing that we encourage more people to be open about their mental health issues, but with this comes the media's interpretation of what it's like to be mentally ill which then goes on to influence people who have no idea what it's like to live with a mental illness. I can only speak for what it's like to have anxiety, and even then it's very hard to say that it's going to be the same for everyone else with anxiety, because everyone has different experiences.

But let me tell you something that anxiety is not. Anxiety is not the shy girl in the school corridor who drops all of her books and is helped by the really popular guy who then falls in love with her. The shy girl doesn't always get the popular guy and thing's aren't resolved in a week. A mental illness is something that stays with you for the rest of your life, even if you know how to manage it. Our brains are clouded with this perception of what it's like to live with mental illnesses, and until you are able to experience it yourself then you'll never know. Half the people who make films about it or write books about it still have no idea. I hated the way Zoella romanticised the main character in her book; Penny suffers with anxiety but yet got the rock star boyfriend and had such a lavish lifestyle; anxiety doesn't work like that. It's hard enough to even step out of the door some days never mind meeting other people and attending a concert. I know it was fantasy, but you've got to be so careful with the way you portray mental illnesses. If you're going to cover them as a topic then show them in their true light.

I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but lets get back to the conversation I overheard in lecture. I feel sorry for this poor girl Emily, whoever she may be, because she has friends who are completely unwilling to try and understand her. Not everyone with anxiety/depression etc is attention seeking. Frankly, we'd probably much rather people not know what goes on in our heads but when you're having a panic attack  and people think you're dying then you have to explain what's going on so that they don't call an ambulance because that's the last thing you need.

If I carry on ranting on this blog post, it will turn into a novel. But I just want to stress how important it is to talk about mental health and not to romanticise it. The reason we have to have mental health awareness days is because the media sugar coats it; we have to show people what it's really like. How hard it is to get help and how hard it is to admit it to yourself. How much it affects the people around you and how hard it is to meet new people; never mind find your life long partner whilst you stroll along the beach trying to calm yourself down. There is so much more to mental health than meets the eye.

Lots of Love,

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