Whilst significant advances have been made in recent times when it comes to tackling the stigma surrounding mental health, in my view, the way in which society approaches the issue is still somewhat flawed. Generally, any stigma around mental health that does remain is not malicious in nature, and the vast majority of the population are beginning to recognise that mental health problems can affect people in everyday life. However, the problem has changed. The stigma that was previously so prevalent has now been replaced by an attitude of dissociation. The idea being that mental health problems do exist, but they’re something that happens to other people. Put simply, mental health is viewed as something that’s extremely black and white, you either have a problem, or you don’t. No scope for grey areas, no room for manoeuvre. Yet herein lies the problem…as a society, we focus too much on mental health, and not enough on mental wellbeing.
My own experience of mental health has been a mixed one. I wouldn’t ever describe myself as having a mental health problem, yet there have certainly been times when I have struggled. In January of last year, I joined the Royal Air Force (RAF), something that had wanted to do since the age of 14. By February of that same year, I had to voluntarily withdraw myself from service in the RAF, due to an ongoing personal issue - something that was out of my control. This hit me very hard. A career that I’d wanted from a young age wasn’t there anymore, and I had to try and pick myself up, and adjust my whole life plan. Initially, I found this very difficult. I didn’t want to leave the house, didn’t want to try and find a new job, didn’t want to put myself out there, in case I (according to my head at the time) failed again. After several weeks of this, I finally went to the doctors about my low mood and, ultimately, my fear of failure. The doctor said that it was likely that I was suffering from something called Adjustment Disorder. Adjustment Disorder is not so much a mental health condition in itself, but more a reaction to a situation. It is generally defined as a stress related disorder, occurring as a result of difficulty adjusting to stressful life experiences. For me, this was leaving the RAF, and the other issues that were going on in my personal life at the time. Thankfully I managed to pick myself up from this setback, starting a new job and, eventually, going onto make a successful application for the Solicitor Apprenticeship that I am currently undertaking. As the doctor predicted, once the major stresses in my life had alleviated, my mental health began to improve. I’ve also started to get better at managing stress, which has made a very positive difference, as I can generally recognise when it’s becoming an issue before it gets to the point where it’s negatively affecting my mental health. Generally, this is an area where, I believe, employers and universities can play a big part in supporting peoples’ mental wellbeing.
A lot of mental health ‘flare ups’, especially amongst those who are not suffering from a recognised mental health condition, are caused (or exacerbated) by a build-up of stress. This stress could result from a number of different factors, including: work, studying, family/personal circumstances. Often though, if this stress is recognised and, to some extent, curtailed early on, then it can prevent the situation from getting far worse. This is where employers and universities come in. In my view, taking a day off with poor mental health should be seen as just as valid as taking one off for sickness or a physical injury. Often this can benefit employers as well as, as I alluded to earlier, if have a day off and can deal with their stress or other issues early, then its incredibly likely that this will prevent them from reaching crisis point, and having to have a great deal more time off work.
Hopefully, the recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace should then result in a trickle-down effect, in which society starts to view mental health and mental wellbeing through fresh eyes, and the black and white perception of mental health can be tackled.
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