Prince Harry and his family are campaigning for greater awareness, better treatment, less stigma, and more open conversation on mental health.
It has been impressive to see so many celebrities in the few years, people who the young can identify with and aspire to be, come out of the mental health issue closet. J.K. Rowling, Davina McCall, Ruby Wax, Frank Bruno, Freddie Flintoff and Michelle Mone are but a few to have joined Prince Harry in a very long list. They give out two messages, first how important it is to talk about these issues – but also, that it is possible to succeed in life with these issues.
Social media was alight with response, most of it sympathetic to the cause. There was a lot of nonsense inevitably too – I saw one complaint that schools had done absolutely nothing about mental health day, whereas National Book Day always gets a great deal of publicity. This is comparing chalk and cheese as, to my knowledge, schools don’t instigate a National Physical health day either. It is entirely different. However, we would all hope that schools do approach the subjects of mental and physical health pro-actively within the curriculums and much more would be welcomed.
At the same time, I saw another tweet along the lines of “take care of your mental health, not your grades”. Nice idea and I would be the last person to suggest that any young person should suffer from an unreasonable amount of stress of feelings of personal failure through results.
Sadly, I believe that the genuinely suffering kids, who see notices about looking after themselves not their grades, will pay little or no attention. It takes a great deal more than a happy, flower-strewn notice to tackle the deeply-embedded, silent fears of rejection and self-loathing that go with mental illness. These sufferers will not suddenly be able to overcome their illness on the strength of this.
However, a broad brush stroke such as this also opens up an entire line of abuse – how many of us have bunked off school, failed to study as hard as we should, failed to revise and how many of us would have consciously used a stress/anxiety card to cover our little backs as we played up. Such are the frailties of human nature.
The schools themselves have a problem too. Tied to continually proving results to fund themselves, they are prone to over push the genuinely delicate. On the flip side, for them, it has fast become more PC to attribute lower stats to mental health issues than to bad teaching.
If we want mental illness to be as acceptable as physical illness, we need to openly accept mental illness as you would physical, openly support with an aim to get better or do the best you can in the same incredible way that Paralympians (another Prince Harry cause) achieve against odds. We have to create places where it is attractive and comfortable to get better when someone has reached the point of their illness they have the potential to. With mental health, one of the scariest things is often getting better, because you will be taking on the responsibilities that became too much in the first place. There has to be no more stigma to declaring a mental illness to that of flu.
I hope with support from Prince Harry and the Royal Family, the diagnosticians can be enabled to really improve their game. Diagnosing accurately and giving help is essential to treating genuine sufferers as society breaks down further and fails to treat people who need help.
But also handing out an “if you declare a mental illness you don’t have to perform” card is incredibly dangerous. It is absolutely no help to the genuine sufferer. It creates a resentment and scepticism and divide that wouldn’t exist if the system declared and treated.
And it opens up the field for generations of workers who can claim stress to excuse any shortfall of performance which will long term be detrimental to society and stand in the way of the treatment of the genuinely suffering.
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