What are your thoughts on mental health?

Taking inspiration from Mental Health Awareness Week, mental health was the theme of this month’s forum.  On May 16th, we were joined by Geoff and Joan from Off The Record, a charity “founded in 1994 to provide free, independent and professional counselling for 14 – 25 year olds in the Croydon area,” who provided another level to our conversation.

To start the conversation, I thought it was important to ask what everyone’s understanding of mental health was.  Responses included:

  • “I think it may be along the lines of mental capabilities… It is knowing the mental capacity of an individual – something may trigger someone more than others.” – Sharna
  • “Up until recently, I didn’t realise anxiety and depression was a symptom of mental health.  I only thought mental health was schizophrenia or a mental breakdown.” – Alana
  • “I understand mental health as the health of our minds… All of us have a mental health.  There is no such thing as people with or without it.” – Geoff
  • “It’s not taken as seriously as physical illnesses… It’s not recognised unless people go through it.” – Shannette

Sharna then brought up the well-being factor in the workplace and getting mental health issues out there, particularly in schools.  Geoff responded by saying that if we had less shame, then we would be more willing to talk about it.  He also made the very interesting point of: “The strategies work for a while, but in the end they become a problem themselves.”

The next question I asked was, why does there seem to be a stigma around mental health, especially in the BME community?  Alana thinks that it’s a lot to do with pride and social status, while Sharna thinks that there’s a big lack of understanding.  Sharna also said, “With people of colour, there is a harsh reality that it can be fixed.”

Shannette thinks that sometimes it’s a parent coming to terms with what their child has, while Nyisha believes that black families sometimes have difficulty in taking responsibility for playing a part in their children’s mental health problems.  “I think what your parents has gone through effects you, and effects their children,” said Nyisha.

We also touched on the topic of males and mental health, which I think could be a topic for discussion all in itself.  Sharna began by saying, “It’s like boys aren’t able to have emotions.”  Shannette followed up by expressing that she thinks things are changing now, especially with social media, and that boys are a little more open and able to share their emotions.

Hakeem said that guys tend to bottle things up more often, and Geoff revealed to us that with a break up, there is an incredible difference in the way that is handled by each gender.  He told us that girls find various ways to deal with it, while boys tend to go to the extreme and at times consider suicide.

Alana and Rhianna were both brave enough to share their experiences with mental health problems with us.  Alana revealed that it was triggered by something that happened in her past, while Rhianna went into depth on what triggers her depression and anxiety disorder, and how she has coped with them.

I then handed it over to Geoff, who expressed the importance of getting interested in our critical voice.  He believes that these voices often come from our experiences and it’s about understanding that voice, and not taking it at face value.

Rhianna followed this up by saying that a lot of our thoughts are fears that come from nowhere – “Sometimes you need to question it and not just listen to it.  Sometimes you just need encouragement.”

Nyisha thinks that a lot of things to do with mental health is meeting someone in their reality, which was slightly echoed by Rhianna who thinks that people need to take more time to understand people and who they are – “I think that a lot of people can only understand to their level of understanding.”

Shannette also believes that in a lot of instances, people are in competition with how serious their problems are, which can sometimes be the block in people getting help.

Rhianna expressed the importance of having a way to deal with things and express yourself – “You have to face something in order to overcome it.”  She also added that “with depression, a good thing is to just let it out.”

Geoff also believes that with some people, a diagnosis is really useful and medication could be really helpful, but sometimes a diagnosis is not helpful, as people can be misdiagnosed.  He added that a medical models is not always the best solution, and sometimes the humanist model can be a better way to look at it.

My final question was, how can we break the stigma around mental health?  Responses included:

  • “By doing things like this.” – Geoff
  • “Getting more understanding.” – Valerie
  • “If there is something you’re going through, own what you have and educate people on what you have.” – Shannette
  • Spreading awareness – Alana
  • Encouraging people and sharing your story.  “Also finding the right groups of people – we all need someone.” – Rhianna
  • I think society needs to question the senior members in the medical profession.  It would help to have more people in the same community, as they have that cultural understanding. – Nyisha

There were so many more amazing gems and points raised in the conversation, but unfortunately I cannot include them all, so I want to leave you with a few to reflect on:

  • “No one can be your hype man as much as you.” – Shannette
  • “Establish that what you’re going through is your own and you can’t make comparisons.” – Rhianna
  • “I think everyone has a hint of madness in them and it’s about embracing that.” – Shannette
  • “You can be saving someone by just sharing your experience.” – Alana
  • “When we’re struggling, that is often when the light comes in.” – Geoff

Life Goals will be the theme of our forum on June 20th and it is going to be a special one, as we’ll be joined by some inspiring young people who will be sharing their stories.  Hopefully it will inspire you to think about your life goals and what steps you want to take moving forward.

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