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In the latest in our series of blogs about #mentalhealth, an NHS England (London) awareness campaign for mental health care across the capital, the co-chair of the London Mental Health Strategic Clinical Network talks about stigma and prevention:
Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. So says an ancient proverb dating back to the Bronze Age.
Hopelessness is a common feature we can all experience at times of mental stress.
Stigma identifies us as different: someone with something to be avoided at all costs. It leads to covering up reality in euphemisms and innuendo. We speak in hushed voices and sidelong glances. It always relates to ‘them’ and never ‘us.’
Changing stigma will take effort and courage.
It is changing because brave people are starting to speak openly about their mental health. Language dictates culture and currently we all find it easy to resort to learned negative language about mental health. We can all acquire new words to change our ability to communicate about our mind. The more we hear, the more our ability to communicate effectively about our thinking and emotions improves.
Enabling us to communicate about our inner responses can start in primary school. Helping children acquire an emotional language will help us identify where and when we need help, assisting us all in building our resilience in life and avoiding the disabling loss of hope that can afflict us all.
That is the essence of prevention: being able to rediscover that we are all in the same boat, with a similar shared journey and often similar challenges. The recovery of hope starts with not being alone. So, anything we write must be in the first person. It is our shared issue. I may have a mental health problem; it is us who need to take action; it is our friends and family who are suffering.
Having established we are not alone, we can believe there is help for us. We can challenge the stigma that poor mental health is always for life.
For some, like physical health, there may be life-long consequences. But for all there is much we can do to help and for many of us it will be a one-off episode from which we recover.