Sadly, I think Erica is right about this. I too take part in a lot of raising awareness, online and off, and I’m glad to see some of those campaigns go viral and really help people feel less alone in their struggles, but we have to also come to grips with what changing our society is going to take:
“The unwillingness to address the darker side of personal struggles is exemplified in social media culture, as mental health is treated as another platform for shallow and ineffectual virtue signalling. Awareness campaigns are co-opted by hashtag activism—lists of hotlines mixed with soccer mom-like platitudes posted to garner retweets. Much is owed to these campaigns, including promising starts to destigmatization, but addressing mental health requires more than just a tweet. Hotlines and mental health organizations are impartial resources, but they require people to have the courage to reach out to get help in the first place. Seeking help requires addressing topics that continue to be ostracized in public discussion, all while confronting the real threat of involuntary loss of agency through hospitalization. One day per year, even one month per year, devoted to mental health is not enough.”
The truth of the matter is, we can have our Mental Health Awareness, Suicide prevention, #Let’sTalk, and all of the other days we want, we are only scratching at the surface of the problem. Yes, we should continue to fight for anyone struggling to be a voice for them, but we have to also acknowledge where we, as a society, go wrong. Whether it is, as Erica mentions, talking about our political leaders as “mentally ill”, mocking a professional athlete from an opposing team for his openness about depression, telling survivors of childhood trauma to stop sharing their “depressing stories”, reacting to every act of violence as a mental health issue, or just joking about friends and coworkers “being off their meds”, we live in a society where dealing with a mental health issue makes you the “other” that gets bullied, mocked, or just plain ignored. Not because there’s anything wrong with you, but because everyone else would rather not try and figure out how to be supportive. They’d rather go read about people they don’t even know, because the mess of those lives doesn’t have to get them dirty too.
Until we come to grips with this, as a society, we will continue to have underfunded mental healthcare, people suffering silently, and high rates of suicide. The whole subject makes us uncomfortable, so we don’t have real, honest conversations within our communities about it, and because we aren’t having those conversations it seems like an unimportant topic.
Until it’s someone we love who’s struggling. Then we wonder where the support is, that we couldn’t be bothered to give anyone else.
So, by all means, continue to take part in all of the days dedicated to abuse and mental health. Take advantage of the opportunity to share your own story, and maybe even remind people around you that they too, know someone dealing with mental health issues. But also remember how much more there is to do.