There’s two emails you might receive from me this week, a planned one, and an unplanned one. This is the unplanned one. What’s life without a little surprise?
I’m going to jump right into what I want to talk about. This week in the UK, the NHS launched Every Mind Matters, a very high profile and strong concept campaign providing support and awareness for mental health issues, focused around the idea that everyone will face them at some point in their life.
Here’s some of their branding, which I suppose I’ve technically stolen, but since I’m crediting them and it includes both their message and their call to action, I don’t feel too guilty about it.
It’s bold and effective, and I’ve just noticed that little logo is a cute combination of a thought bubble and a brain. Nice. They’ve got a high concept TV spot feature lots of celebrities and lots of “normal” (fame-typical?) people being honest and endearing.
The agenda is clear and a positive one.
It’s okay to experience stress. It’s common to experience anxiety. Depressive thoughts, self-doubt, and feelings of loss and rejection are frequent and universal, and the NHS has provided some resources and advice on how to handle them.
That’s the NHS, the provider of public (and some private) healthcare in the UK. Not a charity, not a foundation or institute, but our actual healthcare provider, sitting up and taking notice of the absolute ubiquity of mental health issues, and providing active assistance for them.
So here comes the cynicism. Firstly, of course the NHS is interested in providing mental health support before the first point of contact. If people are enabled to deal with their mental health on their own, they’re less likely to approach their doctor or surgery, and will in turn free up NHS resources.
There’s nothing wrong with a healthcare provider wanting to free up its resources though, and there’s nothing wrong with raising support and awareness for mental health issues.
But… most of this support is things we have heard before. Healthy diets. Walks in the woods. Asserting your need for space and respect in the workplace and at home. Making time for yourself. Mindfulness and wellness. All great approaches for dealing with mental health issues, but not mental illness.
A walk in the woods won’t cure your obsessive compulsive disorder. Your PTSD will not be resolved by a hearty stew. Schizophrenia does not go away if you have a long bath.
The campaign doesn’t make any claims to fix these illnesses. Fair enough.
My real concern is how it could affect the public perception of mental illness. It has taken a long time – pretty much the entire young adult part of my life, if I’m honest and subjective – for responses to depression and anxiety to rise above the isolating “we all get sad sometimes” suck-it-up attitudes.
The Every Mind Matters campaign is a step in the right direction, but the drive to present mental health issues as universal runs the risk of standardising all social and psychological concerns across the board, and “We all get sad sometimes” becomes “Well a walk in the woods worked for me”.
There’s the possibility of a sort of ungrateful stigma being applied to those who need something more, those for whom a woodland walk and a nice bath isn’t enough, because their mental illness is just that- an illness that requires treatment.
“We raised awareness of depression at the bake sale last month, what more do you want? Well our Sandra found that meditation helped with her nerves, what’s so special about you that it can’t fix your anxiety?”
When you normalise mental health, you remove something from the individual experience, and risk forcing it into a more standardised and typical framework, which is particularly problematic when the boundaries between mental health and mental illness are still so blurred.
Anyway, that’s my unfinished thought. I’m going to be bringing you a lot more unfinished thoughts, because I think they work better than the more meticulously planned out and frankly kinda dull essay emails. Also I promised you behind-the-scenes material for All Better Now, and well – you just read some.
Like all works-in-progress and unfinished thoughts it is open to discussion, and if you want to have one you just go ahead and hit that reply button.
That’s me opening myself up to whatever your responses might entail, which is a semi-big deal. You don’t have to be nice, but try to be human.
I hope you are well.
P.S This month I tried to go 7 days without saying or posting a negative word about another person. It was difficult, refreshing, and I’ll tell you all about it soon.
P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!