In case you didn’t know today is World Mental Health Day #eventprofs, and the focus of the campaign set by the World Federation for Mental Health is ‘mental health in the workplace‘.

As part of my support I’ve ordered my green pin badge (you can do the same by visiting the mental health foundation website), the pin badge is an indication of my personal commitment to raise awareness and support good mental health for all, but also to indicate that I am happy to chat about my own mental health. I’ll be wearing my pin badge with pride!

In my previous post I wrote about how creating a proactive wellbeing culture in the workplace is critical in providing a happy, healthy and safe environment for employees and colleagues to thrive in.

Today is also all about ‘talking’ so I wanted to write about ‘stigma’, that lovely brick wall that can prevent so many people from talking and asking for the help they need, and also prevent many from reaching out to someone they may be concerned or worried about.

Why does it exist and why do so many people find it difficult to talk about their own or the mental health of others in the year 2017?

Mental Health stigma has been deep rooted in the psyche for many years, it was not that long ago that anyone suffering from a perceived mental illness would be locked away in an institution and quite possibly forgotten about. Thankfully we are no longer in those times so things should certainly be very different, shouldn’t they?

It’s much easier to try to “ignore” or brush away people who seem to have what we deem to be negative qualities. Managers and colleagues in the workplace may be too busy to be able to deal with the demands they ‘assume’ they’ll need to take on, and should they even hire someone who has bipolar disorder like myself, for instance?

Stigma around illness has not only applied to mental health, there was a time that a cancer patient would have experienced the same prejudice, so it has certainly been present for physical illnesses as well.

The brain is the mother ship of the human body, the command centre. Once you experience problems in the mother ship the rest of the fleet suffers and there are many physical illnesses that come hand in hand with or follow mental illness.

For example, as I suffer from bipolar I am at high risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke, and when I took anti-psychotic medication to treat my illness I had to have regular 6 monthly blood tests to ensure that I didn’t develop diabetes. It’s a frightening prospect to carry on your shoulders when you are already suffering from ill health, whether that is physical or mental it shouldn’t matter, both should be treated equally.

So why does Stigma exist?

Well the warped media representation certainly doesn’t help at times, and only tends to harden peoples opinions of those with mental health illnesses in the days that immediately follow an atrocity, offsetting the great work done by recent campaigns the main goal of which is to educate and raise awareness, of which EventWell was one.

Take last week’s terrible events in Las Vegas, the individual involved in that event has been described by some as a weirdo, a nutcase, a loony tune; these are all words associated with mental illness, and he must have been to have carried out such a terrible and senseless act right?

Not necessarily, it has never been confirmed that he has ever suffered from an episode of mental illness and was not someone being treated for such. In-fact it is unexplained as to why he did what he did to so many innocent people, so why was the first question being asked by the media associated with his mental state? How about asking the question about how he was able to walk into a hotel with a collection of assault rifles over his shoulder and not be stopped or questioned by anyone?

I’m not writing a post on America’s senseless gun laws though so I’ll stop there!

Here’s the important thing, as someone who does suffer from a mental illness, there is actually more risk of me harming myself than ever harming a hair on the head of another human being. 30% of individuals with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, and I am one of the 30%.

Stigma is almost certainly a generation thing and I’ve said it many times before, that British reserve that we are famed for and stiff upper lip is our own worst enemy, because that ”keep calm and carry on” attitude, whilst at times it can be essential and a sign of strength, can also prevent people from opening up about real worries, fears and concerns that lead to ill health.

In post war generations there was certainly a mentality that when something terrible happened, if you ignored and didn’t talk about it then it would simply go away. Hand up if you have a grandparent who had experience of either of the two world wars but never ever talked about it? Think about all that stress and trauma that would have stayed with them for years?

One lesson I learned very quickly since my diagnosis is that bottling things up and not talking could actually make me quite ill very quickly, I suppose this is why I find it easy to open up now with my immediate friends and family about how I am feeling, and why writing about my experiences here on Diary, whilst very difficult at first, is becoming a lot easier.

The main reason that stigma can exist is lack of knowledge and understanding, the missing pieces that can prevent someone from getting the help they need or reaching out. Not knowing what to say or how to act, not wanting to put our big size 7 in it or be viewed in a negative light ourselves.

We all know how to check for cancer, we know immediately what to say to someone if they were to tell you they found a lump, we’ve also seen the adverts that tell us the warning signs of a stroke, what about mental health?

If there’s one thing that you do right now as part of World Mental Health Day it’s take the time to read and increase your knowledge on the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and what to keep an eye on in terms of your own wellbeing, but also those colleagues and loved ones around you. Google the signs and symptoms of mental illness on your way home this evening.

And talk, either about your own worries, or reach out to someone you may be concerned about.

We’re really not that scary at all, in fact we are pretty normal people who just have personal battles we fight much the same as everyone else, and we’re also pretty resilient individuals too (something we don’t give ourselves credit for), as everyone who has recovered from an episode of mental illness will be all the stronger for it.

Talking could make a huge difference to someone, so let’s tackle stigma and mental health prejudice, and let’s get the nation talking about mental health over a big mug of tea.

Until next time #eventprofs…