Home Comment Mental Health Awareness Week: Let’s start talking!

Mental Health Awareness Week: Let’s start talking!


This week is the University’s Mental Health Awareness Week and here at Exeposé we’ll be doing our bit to raise awareness and start a conversation about all the issues involved with mental wellbeing. 

Here, in the first of three winning entries from our Mental Health Awareness Week competition with Mind Your Head Society, Henry Sawdon-Smith argues that we should always be willing to talk about tough mental health issues, not just in designated weeks like this one. 

By simply talking and listening we can break down negative stigma to make a real difference…

It shouldn’t be hard to talk about mental health. All you have to do is open your mouth and words come out, right? It sounds like the easiest thing in the world.

But amongst all the difficulties we face in our lives, mental illness is one of the most uniquely difficult to talk about. I talked about some of the reasons why in my last article for Exeposé, but I want to follow up on that closing paragraph and discuss how being open about your difficulties can make things better – for everybody.

Silence shouldn’t be the norm. Friendships are ruined by it: one of the most common symptoms of depression is a reluctance to engage in social activity, and if you aren’t being honest with your friends about your reasoning, all too often they will assume you just don’t want to talk to them anymore.

Worse, people lose their jobs and homes over it, with seven out of ten homeless people suffering from one or more mental health problems. When you struggle just to get out of bed and face the day every morning, you’re not going to work very well, and if you haven’t been honest about the source of your struggle how can people know where the problem lies?

Image Credit: University of Exeter
Image Credit: University of Exeter

Absolutely nothing good comes from the way we can’t talk about mental health. We shouldn’t need to have Mental Health Awareness Week, or Wellbeing Week, or Time to Talk Day, or any of the dozens of other little designated-honesty-zones where we’re “allowed” to talk frankly about these kinds of things.

Sadly, for now, it’s a necessary state of affairs; if we didn’t have times to raise awareness, we wouldn’t have any awareness at all. But that’s something that can change. We need to speak up. To stand up and say “Yes, I have a mental illness, and I’m happy to talk about it.” If we all do it – if it stops being the boogieman under our bed, the skeleton in our collective closets – then it stops being a problem, and starts being the norm to talk about it.

I suppose it would be hypocritical of me not to be totally honest after writing the above sentence, so I guess I should take the first step. My name is Henry Sawdon-Smith, and I have been severely depressed since the age of fourteen. Sometimes it hasn’t been too bad, and sometimes I have been genuinely suicidal, but it’s never been gone entirely. It’s something I have struggled with for a very long time, but it’s also something I have learned to come to terms with.

That sentence doesn’t look so difficult to type, does it? But this is something I have only told to maybe two or three of my closest friends, and even then I had to use some Dutch courage to work up the nerve to talk about it. The perfect example of what I talked about earlier.

But this article isn’t really about me; it’s about you, and your friends, and everyone we know. If even one person reads my above sentence, and empathises with it, or thinks “well, if he can talk about it, so can I”, then the world will be a better place.

Stand up. Speak up. Carry the torch, for yourself, and for someone you know who might be struggling, who just needs one person to provide an example to show them that they aren’t alone in the world.  Save your own life, and maybe, just maybe, you can save someone else’s, too.

Henry Sawdon-Smith

Check out what’s going on in Mental Health Awareness Week here.

If you’re feeling stressed or affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can find out more information, or book an appointment, with the University’s Wellbeing centre here. You can also talk to Voice, who offer a confidential service run by students, for students, here

You can also like Mind Your Head Society on Facebook to keep up with their Mental Health Awareness Week events.

And finally, you can like Exeposé Comment on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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