While South Africa has declared October as Mental Health Awareness month, in the US, it is in May. This week also happens to be Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. So, considering how vital this cause is and how relevant it is to society today, I thought I’d also join in by making posts this week that take a look at mental health. Mental health has always been a fascinating subject to me because of how unusual and personal it is. Unlike physical problems, mental illness is not something tangible. You can see when your friend has a broken leg, but if they are struggling with something like depression, you may never know. Mental health is critical to our wellbeing, but unfortunately, there are so many things nowadays that can contribute to mental illnesses. The biggest problem in my opinion, however, isn’t the fact that mental illnesses are prevalent issues or that more people are getting them, but that there are so many individuals who never seek the help they need because of the stigmas, discrimination and lack of understanding by those around them.
I had a friend who struggled with a mental illness in high school, and she tore her ligaments playing sport. When she was visibly damaged and had to stumble around the school on crutches, everyone asked to help her with her bags or to carry things, they asked if she was okay and made an effort to ease any part of her pain that they could. However, when her mental illness was affecting her, and she looked more subdued and sad than usual, all she got told was to perk up and stop looking so depressed. When a few people found out about her mental health, they told her that it was no big deal and to just snap out of it and move on with life. After she told me this, I knew that stigmas against mental health weren’t just something in the media. How could people in this day and age think that mental illnesses were just something you should ‘get over and move on’ with?
Mental illnesses are incredibly serious because they aren’t quite like other illnesses. When we get sick from some virus, our body goes into defense mode. Our lymph nodes release white blood cells, we produce antibodies, and our body does everything it can to get over the virus. Mental illness is a different sort of sickness, a sickness in the brain that refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that can affect/influence mood, thinking and behaviour. It can be caused by so many things. Just to clarify though, you cannot be born with a mental illness (as in you don’t pop out of your mother with clinical anxiety or depression). However, your genetics can play a part in how susceptible you are to mental illnesses, but other things such as trauma (physical, psychological or emotional) or other health issues can trigger a mental health issue.
So many of the problems in the world can be solved through education and kindness, but how are you meant to teach people if you don’t know what they know? So today, to kick off my mental health awareness week of posts, I wanted to ask an array of people their opinion on mental health and mental illnesses (shout out to my best friend Keeanne for giving me this incredible idea). By sharing the answers of these people I’ve interviewed, I’m hoping to show that there is far more to mental health than people think and that mental illnesses are incredibly serious and not something that can be helped by the individual. I’m doing this in conjunction with the Mental Health Foundation in the UK and their theme for this week being ‘kindness’. Let’s start off helping all those struggling with mental health issues by trying to learn what they are going through, that it isn’t their fault and figuring out how we can be sympathetic when someone spends their life in a constant battle with their own mind.
*Before I share the interview, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who volunteered to answer these questions! Thank you so much for sharing what you know and your opinions, as well as those of you who shared your stories, and so helping to raise awareness for mental health issues!
What do you think a mental illness actually is?
“For me, I think mental illness is a condition that changes one’s behaviour – the way they socialise, the way they think and the way they act. It is something that also changes the way one feels” – Siphiwe
“An illness caused by irregularities in hormonal cycles within the body, which influences the affected person’s mental state.” – Armaan
“Mental illnesses are varying states of mind that can affect someone’s mood or emotions, their thoughts, attitudes and behaviour – sometimes without the person knowing or being able to control it.” – Aeglesia
“Mental illness is a clinical disorder. It causes people to not act like their usual self in forms of mood swings, anxiety, depression, any out of the norm behaviour.” – Tadiwanashe
“Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in a person’s hormones.” – Stuart
“I would say that mental illness is just the same as a physical illness and should be treated the same!”
“A mental illness is a condition that affects our mood, the way we think and behave. It also affects the people around us especially when we don’t know what’s going on in our heads. There are several people who disregard mental illnesses, but I think it is something that is so so important because mental illnesses affect more and more people everyday and some of them can’t access the proper help they need. A mental illness is also one that is hard to control because you lose yourself slowly to the illness (that’s what I think anyways).”
“Well my perception of it is a bit weird … I view everyone’s minds as frequencies and everyone’s mind functions at a certain frequency and I feel that mental illness is when something is disrupting that frequency/your natural frequency your mind would be working on – something is now obstructing that natural state.” – Nyasha
“Something that affects your mental health so like thinking/thoughts/information processing/mood/behaviour and attitudes”
“I think mental illness can be explained as health conditions of the brain that affect a person’s behaviour, emotions as well as the way a person thinks.” – Fatimah
“I believe a mental illness is a condition that affects ones thinking and how they react to certain circumstances.” – Manesan
“I think a mental illness is a sickness like any other. It is an illness of the mind and requires the right treatment and is not just something you decide to have.” – Shaqeela
“A mental illness is a condition which causes the person to have distorted thoughts about themselves/others/life in general which negatively impacts their behaviour. More often than not mental illness/mental health impacts one’s physical health as well.”
“A condition which describes a mental state deficient in some sense. The brain is the root cause of the problem (although not necessarily biologically), but signs can be manifested in many different ways. Usually, but not always, visible through behavioural changes. Some mental illnesses can be treated using traditional medical techniques, but most require a holistic approach and not one which focuses entirely on treating the brain – thoughts don’t respond to pain killers!” – Helena
Many of these answers are correct. As I mentioned (even though please remember I am not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination nor a professional in any psychological field), a mental illness denotes a massive variety of mental health conditions that can have an influence or effect on mood, thinking and behaviour. A mental health problem is considered to be less severe than a mental illness. Mental illnesses affect the way people behave, think and feel and as such, it is true that hormonal imbalances are the cause of mental health problems however that is a very simple way to look at it. Mental health is incredibly complex and influenced by a wide array of factors, so if you want to know more about the cause of mental illness, please turn to a refutable health source.
What do you think about when you hear the term ‘mental illness’?
“When you hear the term mental illness, I think of how one’s mental state can affect their physical state. It changes an individual. Things that one used to find fun are no longer fun and it affects one’s relationships” – Siphiwe
“Depression” – Armaan
“It doesn’t have to be one specific thing that affects someone, it can be an array of different ‘disorders’ that weren’t there before that progressed into severe depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, OCD or even ADD/ADHD. It’s basically something that someone else insists is wrong with a person which negatively affects the person to the point where the person may further develop the symptoms that weren’t necessarily there.” – Aeglesia
“I think about the research I recently read about that says most people actually acquire life insurance because they think the cause of their death will be something related to mental illness. This was really an eye-opening especially because there is a societal stigma surrounding this topic.” – Tadiwanashe
“I think that it is a person that has a lot of internal battles that other people do not have.” – Stuart
“Well, when I hear the term mental illness I think of someone that is going through something. I may not relate on the same level but I know and am aware that a mental illness doesn’t make the person any lesser than I am. I see a fighter because to combat a mental illness that affects the way you think and behave is not easy.”
“When I think mental reason, I think it might just be the way the human mind works, but I usually think of the extremes. For example I’ll think about depression but at the same time I’ll think about things like stress. Now stress isn’t an extreme because it’s something that we all experience but more because I see what stress is capable of causing, like disrupting that frequency entirely.” – Nyasha
“I think of mental health issues. Anxiety also comes to mind.” – Fatimah
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of mental illness is depression.” – Manesan
“I think of a struggle with one’s self.” – Shaqeela
“I think it does sometimes raise the ideas of negative stereotypes that people who are mentally ill may be crazy or mad. However, this is definitely an attitude which is fading out due to the increased awareness of mental health. Personally, I think the term ‘illness’ conveys the seriousness and importance of mental health. Some people for some unknown reason don’t think mental health exists whilst others suffering from mental health issues often don’t think they need help or that they should get treatment. I really like the example given of a broken leg: If you broke your leg you would go to the hospital, undergo treatment, rest and allow your body to repair – you would be kind to yourself so why not seek help for mental health?”
“I’m reminded of my own experience with anorexia, but also of other people I know who suffer from different conditions. Words which pop into my head: loneliness, fear, misunderstanding, long-lasting, invisibly damaging, difficult to express in words.” – Helena
Do you think mental illnesses can be controlled/easily fixed?
“I think it can be controlled over time. It’s not something that can be done instantly. But with time, patience and the right support, it can be controlled.” – Siphiwe
“They can be controlled. “Easily is a relative term, significant effort must be put towards controlling and fixing them where possible, I believe.” – Armaan
“Definitely not. Even with the proper medication, it takes a lot of motivation from the person battling with the mental illness themselves in order to even produce an inch of what a person would describe as ‘normal behaviour’. More so, if the person believes they can overcome it but is misled by treatments meant to help, it just deteriorates them further. Unfortunately, in my experience, it cannot be fixed easily – no matter the severity – nor can it be controlled or subdued. You have your good and bad days, but you always live with it.” – Aeglesia
“No. It is a clinical disorder. It needs specialist attention. Some of the forms of mental illness arise as a result of trauma. That is things ingrained in your memory that replays over and over and that takes a long time to overcome.” – Tadiwanashe
“No mental illness can not be fixed as I have depression and anxiety and I am on meds for it but the problem is I still feel super depressed and anxious when I am having an off day. So it can not be fixed but people can learn to live with it.” – Stuart
“I think with helping mental illness it’s obviously very different for everyone. Some people respond well and live a great life with the help of medication however the same can’t be said for everyone. The person can’t necessarily control it at all when in an episode, but with the help of medication it can be helped a lot for some people I think.”
“To be honest, it depends. Of course there are several forms of treatments or medication but maybe each works differently on different people. They definitely cannot be easily fixed. They will not disappear overnight and even controlling them takes weeks or months of hard work and effort. Treatment is a process and of course a relapse can happen. So no it can’t be easily fixed but it can be reduced if precautions and treatments are taken.”
“ I think it can be addressed and I think you can do things to help it but I don’t think control is the right word nor do I believe it can be easily fixed because if it could be easily fixed then it wouldn’t be something that people struggled to deal with. It’s hard to assume it can be easily fixed – if your own mind is struggling to address it, the chances are someone else coming into the picture may not be able to help.” – Nyasha
“I think ‘illness’ as opposed to some ‘disorders’ make it sound like it is able to be controlled to an extent. Or like it is something you can recover from with time but I definitely don’t think it’s an easy process.”
“I don’t think mental illnesses can be easily fixed. The brain is a very complex organ, therefore treating a mental illness can not be as simple as treating the common cold. Mental illnesses can be treated, which helps reduce the effects and symptoms, or rather helps keep them at bay although they might not go away permanently.” – Fatimah
“I don’t think mental illnesses can ever be fixed, but I believe they can be brought under some control, but I don’t think it can ever be completely cured.” – Manesan
“Yes I think mental illnesses can be controlled with the right treatment but it does not mean it can be cured or easily fixed. It is a daily battle with one’s thoughts and feelings, sometimes you have good days and sometimes you don’t.” – Shaqeela
“Ultimately they can be controlled but only by the individual themselves. To a certain degree others can help you – they can teach you coping strategies, tell you the consequences if you don’t recover etc. However at the end of the day it is you that has to fully commit to recovering. You are the one that can choose to employ those strategies – yes sometimes it feels as if you don’t have a choice because your thoughts in your head are telling you otherwise but the more you fight against the negative thoughts the easier it becomes and you begin to control the mental illness.”
“No – I think there is a misconception that as soon as someone is diagnosed with a particular mental illness, there is a clear plan for their recovery and return to ‘normal life’. This is completely ridiculous, since although there are broad categories for various illnesses (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD …), each person’s experience is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. It is possible to live with mental illnesses and gradually become less affected by them but this takes a huge amount of dedication and time – no overnight hacks are available!” – Helena
What do you think is the cause of mental illnesses? I.e. is it genetic, something you can be born with, a sign of weakness etc.
“I think mental illnesses arise from traumatic events – events in a person’s life, mainly a bad event or even abuse may be a factor that triggers bad emotions which lead to a mental illness.” – Siphiwe
“Mental illnesses are caused by irregularities in hormonal cycles, I believe, which, in turn are caused by a variety of factors: lifestyle, genetics, age …” – Armaan
“There can be many causes for mental illnesses – it really depends on the person. A mental illness is by no means a ‘birth defect’ but can develop as a result of prenatal damage, traumatic experiences, genetics, and even drug abuse which can cause chemical imbalances in the brain cavity. It all depends on the person in question and the evidence therein.” – Aeglesia
“Mental illness can arise from trauma or it can be as a result of genetics.” – Tadiwanashe
“I think the cause is such a range of factors! I think maybe some people are born with a genetic vulnerability to mental illness but maybe it takes a stressful event to trigger it.”
“I believe there are several causes of mental illness whether cognitive, social or biological. They occur and maybe they pass down or maybe you learn them. However I do not believe that it is a sign of weakness. No way! Looking down on someone with a mental illness is wrong on so many levels. It’s like looking down on someone with a physical injury, we would never do that so why do we do that with mental illness? This is a barrier that needs to be overcome without a doubt.”
“It could be genetic, but in extreme cases (like stress or depression) it isn’t something that you’re necessarily born with but rather something the world imposes on you. It’s more the effect of everything around you and living in stressful conditions can start taking its toll on people. The cause can range from genetics to just life, because of how messed up the world is.” – Nyasha
“I think social media/ modern day society contributes to illness like depression and anxiety … some may be genetic/a cause of your environment and upbringing.”
“Mental illnesses can be genetic, or inherited. I do believe various factors can also cause mental illnesses to arise for example situations or experiences that psychologically affect a person.” – Fatimah
“I believe mental illnesses can form from past experiences that may have severely affected a person.” – Manesan
“I think mental illness can be caused by traumatic experiences, genetics, drug addiction and various other factors we sometimes have no control over.” – Shaqeela
“Some mental illnesses have been found to be hereditary or more likely to occur if someone in your family has suffered from it. However I think much of the cause of mental illness is to do with environment. E.g. if you go to a highly pressured school, I think there is a higher chance that you will put pressure on yourself to achieve highly and results in anxiety around academic work. This perfectionist attitude can infiltrate into other areas of life if the individual does not have the coping strategies to control their anxiety. E.g. many who suffer from eating disorders display perfectionist behaviour.”
“I think most mental illnesses are a combination of influences from society on individuals lives and the mechanisms by which that individual copes with those factors. There may be evidence showing a predisposition to mental illnesses by genetic factors, however I think much more significant is the personal interpretation of, and engagement of people with, society around them.” – Helena
Do you think mental illnesses are a serious problem or just something people can deal with themselves by ‘snapping out of it’?
“I think they are serious, often when it’s not dealt with properly, it can cause more harm in the long run.” – Siphiwe
“Mental illnesses are problems of varying degrees, depending on the individual cases and context. With significant effort I believe they can, but need not, be dealt with alone by the individual affected. Fighting hormonal cycles (fighting your current biology) is an uphill battle, thus I stress the word ‘significant’.” – Armaan
“Like any illness, mental illness is definitely a serious problem that a lot of people suffer from. It’s not fun and it cannot just be ‘turned off’ because someone told you to. People suffering need the proper care and treatment in order to have some normalcy given back to them. Because a person may not know they suffer from a mental illness, this adds on to the dangers they may be putting themselves and those around them in without meaning to.” – Aeglesia
“It’s a serious problem and I do not think many people know that hence why there is still a societal stigma surrounding this topic. Stigmas can be irradiated with a little bit of education. We need to teach people that mental illnesses are real and any of us can become mentally ill. It doesn’t make us any less human.” – Tadiwanashe
“Mental illness is a real problem. Those thoughts are not just something you can just snap out of it takes days maybe even weeks to climb out of that really dark hole.” – Stuart
“I really think people shouldn’t be told to snap out of it! Maybe sometimes people can do that but that’s really unlikely and I don’t think any mental health issue can be fully fixed without working through it. Regarding the stigma, I think people need to realise that it is irrational thinking patterns and they aren’t over reacting! Their thinking is distorted so whatever they are experiencing is incredibly real to them.”
“Mental illnesses are definitely a serious problem. To believe someone can ‘snap’ out of it is irrational and insane. You may not be able to see them but they exist and are so common. People with mental illnesses need treatment because like any other illness it gets worse and worse.”
“It is definitely a serious problem. It’s not something you can just snap out of. I might be wrong because I’m not a doctor or never personally experienced it but in my opinion it’s not something you can easily snap out of because the people that I know who’ve faced it, it’s not people I’d consider weak or unable to snap out of things. If they can do it they would do it so the fact that they don’t shows you it’s not something you can easily snap out of. If you’re hungry, you can’t just tell yourself you’re not hungry. It’s not like there is a switch you can just flip and then it’s off.” – Nyasha
“Yes genuine mental illness is definitely a serious problem and people need to know it’s not necessarily possible to just ‘snap out of it’ … that being said a lot of people do say things like ‘I’m so depressed’ just when something bad happens and that is also a problem in that it desensitises people to the actual issues and the people are actually suffering.”
“I think mental illnesses should be taken seriously. It’s not something people make up. In the same way physical illnesses need treatment (for example a cough or the flu) mental illnesses need treatment as well.” – Fatimah
“I believe it is a serious problem and requires just as much attention as any other physical illness one may have. Snapping out of it is like asking someone to just shake off their cancer, it just wouldn’t make sense.” – Manesan
“Mental illness is a serious problem that requires the right treatment, but also requires love and understanding. It’s not something anyone should deal with on their own.” – Shaqeela
“There is no doubt that mental illnesses are a serious problem as people can end up in hospital and the physical consequences of mental illnesses can be life threatening. When I hear people saying that someone who suffers from a mental illness is being really dramatic or overreacting, I feel annoyed and frustrated as, yes the person can choose to control their mental illness but that is much easier said than done and has to happen over a long period of time. The thing about mental illnesses that is scary is that they dominate your whole life and way of thinking and make you believe so many things that aren’t true but you don’t even realise that you are being controlled by an illness which clearly shoes how they are a serious problem which someone can not ‘just snap out of’.”
“There is such a big misunderstanding of eating disorders in the world. Stereotypically people suffering from an eating disorder are stick thin and don’t eat anything. However this is certainly not always the case – someone may be suffering from an eating disorder but you see them eat their meals etc. so you think they are fine. Getting someone to eat in anorexia recovery is only half the journey (maybe less) – in order to start recovering mentally you have to be physically well too so the first stage of anorexia recovery is eating and restoring weight. Just because someone is eating does not mean they no longer have an eating disorder, the monster most likely still lurks in their head trying to tempt them to befriend them again. Honestly mental illness is scary. I didn’t realise how distorted my thinking was and how obsessed I became about one thing until I started recovery. When a mental illness completely controls you, you don’t even believe you are ill enough for treatment or that you are even ill for that matter. Hence I think it is vital to recognise mental health conditions as an illness in order to understand the seriousness of them.”
“I think it is very dangerous to promote the idea that people can ‘snap out of’ mental illnesses, since this implies they themselves are to blame for ‘snapping into it’ in the first place. The subconscious thought processes which contribute to the development of many mental illnesses are incredibly difficult to explain and understand, let alone try and reverse overnight. I know that treatment can be very slow and frustrating, but even so it can help individuals to process their thoughts in a way that helps them to come to terms with their condition. Just because not all mental illnesses are life-threatening does not mean they are insignificant. On the contrary, I would argue that they are lifestyle-threatening and that this is much more serious – how can we continue to avoid talking about illnesses which have the power to take just as much from your life and relationships as something like cancer?” – Helena
As all these answers point out, mental illnesses are incredibly serious. What I would just like to make a note of, as some of the responses have touched on, is that while there is medication available, that doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. Of course, depending on the person, meds can make such a huge difference and make things considerably better, but being on medication doesn’t stop someone from having a bad day. Meds also don’t change a person’s reaction to a triggering event. If someone with a mental illness and someone without experience the same event, the person with the mental illness will still have a lower threshold or ability to respond normally to it even when they are on medication, and that’s not their fault.
It’s hard enough to go through life fighting your own brain, so how are you meant to cope when people start judging you, bullying you or discriminating against you based on your mental health conditions? Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. In fact, I think that the strongest people in the world are people with mental illnesses because they battle the same typical problems, we all experience in life while also fighting with their own brain. It’s not something that can be easily fixed, nor something that has a generic solution because every person and case is unique. The theme for Mental Health Week in the UK this year is kindness, so with that being said, let’s push kindness forward. If you know someone is struggling with a mental health problem (or even if someone just seems upset/anxious/stressed/depressed etc.) don’t tell them to get over it, snap out of it or stop being so pathetic and move on. You honestly don’t know what they are going through, and even if they tell you, you still won’t be able to truly understand how tough it is to experience it. Mental health can affect anybody at any time so let’s make it something we all strive to help out with, whether it affects us or not.
Soooo, joining on to the kindness themed mental health awareness week in the UK, I’d like to extend that challenge to all of you!!
“During the week, we would like you to carry out or reflect on an act of kindness. Take a photo or video (with permission!) and use the hashtags #KindnessMatters and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
“You can also share your ideas on how you think we could build a kinder society that would support our mental health using the same hashtags above.” (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/get-involved)
You can also tag me on Instagram (@tia_michaela) or mention Tall Blonde Tales when you share your post 😊 Let’s get the world talking about mental health and kindness and promote it ourselves! For more information about this mental health awareness week, you can look here:
Or if you would like to donate to the Mental Health Foundation you can do so here:
Other than that, thank you so much for reading the blog and a bigger thanks to everyone who contributed to the interview. Many of the people who shared answers shared personal stories, so thank you for sharing your story, and for everyone else who shared I know it can be scary to share your opinion online so thank you for being brave and helping me to help raise awareness for mental health. By reading this post, liking it, sharing it and joining in this kindness challenge from the Mental Health Foundation, you are helping to raise awareness for these very serious problems, so a huge thank you to YOU! If you’d like, you can comment what you have done for the challenge (your kindness act or ideas for building a kinder society). I could do an honorary post to you all at the end of the week for all the awareness your contributions will have made?
I don’t think a Disney quote has ever been more fitting but whether you are going through a mental health problem (if you are, please don’t feel ashamed about asking for help or contacting a professional) or merely wanting to show your support and raise awareness, “have courage and be kind” – Cinderella.
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx