With a quarter of the population experiencing a mental health problem at some point in the year, mental illness is something that should be (somewhat) uncomfortably familiar and distinguishable from other illnesses, rather than a subject of dismissal that we are either too scared or downright ignorant to face up to.
It was only when Amanda Bynes was involuntarily hospitalised in 2013, allegedly for schizophrenia, that people were able to see the true nature of her condition. Rather than being deemed as 'insane' or 'hilarious' as some saw her for her behaviour, she was now painted as the tragic hero who had everyone's sympathy and best wishes. However, had the word 'hospitalised' been absent and had Amanda continued to spiral further out of control without any form diagnosis, the stigma, the mockery and sheer disgusting tweets claiming she was 'crazy' would have continued.
Shaving her hair, throwing a bong out of a window, posting provocative messages online, when people looked at Amanda, they could only focus on the word 'mental,' rather than the obvious 'illness.' Mental illness is not a comedy and the erratic behaviour that results from a deteriorating mental condition is not something to be laughed at. It is this ignorance and lack of support that can intervene with a person's recovery and often sends them into a vicious cycle, where they are trapped with their illness and recovery seems to be a distant memory.
I can't help but think that despite living in a technologically advanced society where everything is at the click of a button, as a nation we collectively know so little about mental illness. This has reminded me of an author I studied for my A-levels: Virginia Woolf. Woolf was a 20th century novelist that suffered from severe bouts of mental illness- which later led to her suicide- and this was echoed in her novels. In 'Mrs Dalloway,' her character Septimus suffered from severe shell shock from witnessing his best friend die in World War 1 which led to his mental illness. However, the doctors failed to recognise that Septimus was ill and described him as 'a little out of sorts,' suggesting that he couldn't possibly have anything to be depressed about.
Of course, society has (thankfully) moved on since then and doctors now have an extensive knowledge and understanding of mental illness, but the general awareness of mental illness just isn't quite there. We have adverts for so many worthwhile causes and charities, such as Cancer Research, Save the Children and Oxfam, yet so few for mental health. So many of us could talk about the impact of cancer coherently, but if asked to define the words 'depression,' 'schizophrenic,' 'bipolar' or 'dysthymia' most of us could only put them under the bracket of 'mental health problems' at best.
Growing up, mental health was something that was never emphasised in schools. Yes, we always had the support of teachers and a school councillor if we were feeling 'sad' or 'needed someone to talk to,' but we were never taught what mental illness was, why it occurred and the measures that could be put in place to treat it. Yes, it is too complex of an issue to teach small children, but certainly a grounding in mental health in secondary school, a place where young people face countless social and academic pressures, would give pupils the confidence to speak out, seek support and help others who are suffering.
If we look at this in a different context, the rise of underage sex and teenage pregnancies soon led to sexual health education in schools. It was realised that young people lacked fundamental knowledge into sexual education and so they were soon taught about consent, contraceptive methods and STI's. Should mental health be any different? If 1 in 4 people do suffer from a mental illness, then awareness needs to be integrated into our everyday lives, starting in schools.
Above all else, if you know someone who may be suffering from mental health problems, show them support and compassion. No one wants to be told to 'snap out of it' or hear 'but you have nothing to worry about?!' You may not be able to relate to the entirety of what they are going through, but simply being a friendly face who can listen is enough give a person a ray of hope, a ray that could quite possibly be their saviour.
And to those that may be suffering from a mental illness- please take solace in the fact that you are not alone. You are not your illness; you are strong, you have a purpose and if you speak out you will get help.