You Are Not Alone

Carly Newman explains why current media coverage and public perception of mental health difficulties is perpetuating stigma and misunderstanding.

Everyone has mental health and whilst we’ve been conditioned to think that that sounds radical and scary, it’s true! Misunderstanding and stigma when talking about mental health is rampant, and part of the problem is related to a misuse of terminology, and lack of understanding. We hear the term ‘mental health’ in the media all the time, but this is often misused. In most instances, what we really mean to say when we say ‘mental health’ is in fact ‘mental health difficulties’. This has led to a collective misunderstanding of what mental health actually is, and what it means. Using the term ‘mental health’ always with negative connotations has led us to believe that mental health is always bad, and that someone only has ‘mental health’ when they are struggling.

In fact, we all have mental health – and just like our physical health, we have it all the time. Whether we are well or not, physical health is something that affects all of us, and that is exactly the same for mental health. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mental health means ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’, and so what we really mean when we say ‘mental health’ is our mental and emotional state – our internal processes, feelings and emotions. 

Mental health means ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’

The problem surrounding the understanding of what mental health is, is widespread. From the media to our emergency services, I have heard paramedics saying that they “aren’t trained to deal with mental health”, when again, they mean to say that they aren’t trained to deal with people whose mental health is suffering, or who are just struggling with how they feel at that moment. This misuse leads to ‘mental health’ having such negative connotations that people who are struggling are seen as ‘the other’, as different, and as someone who is stuck for life with ‘mental health’.

This has to change. In order for people who struggle with their mental health to be seen in the same light as those who struggle with their physical health, we have to start talking about mental health in the right way. We can all contribute to this.

The best way to think of it is that if you find you find yourself talking about mental health, think to yourself “would this make sense if I was talking about physical health?”. If the answer is no, then try to rephrase it. Parity of esteem between mental and physical health is something we should all contribute to and work towards. So, let’s all make an effort to talk about mental health in the right way, and not just when someone is having mental difficulties.