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Mental health awareness – break the stereotype

In this week of raising awareness of mental health, a major issue has to be addressing how society views and treats those suffering mental health problems.

It is commonly accepted that approximately 40% of our population will, at some point in their lives, experience problems with their mental health.

It may be that as you are reading this you will be able to think of someone you know who has experienced or been affected by mental ill health.

My experience is that such problems are indiscriminate, can affect anyone in any area of our society, and present as a wide range of problems.

We are used to hearing about depression, anxiety, dementia and phobias or other problems such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  Such problems can vary from being relatively minor to severe, in some cases presenting serious, potentially life-threatening risk to the sufferer. Mental health problems can have a debilitating impact on someone's daily living, affect their ability to work, socialise, form and sustain interpersonal relationships.

Those suffering problems with their mental health represent some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

However we view these problems, we must accept that they are fundamentally problems with health, in the same way as people suffer physical health problems.

When we know of a colleague, friend or relative who has physical health problems we are likely to enquire as to how they are, show concern and offer support. Society should do the same for people suffering from problems with their mental health.

It could be that someone experiencing mental health problems may be only too aware of their difficulties. This may impact on their self-esteem, confidence, cause embarrassment and self-consciousness. None of these emotions are helpful. Stigma and discrimination can play a big part, trapping people in what may be a cycle of illness.

I have often experienced a portrayal in the media of a link between mental ill-health and violence or people being dangerous to others. However, these are extremely rare cases. A simple Internet search will rapidly identify hundreds of celebrities and famous people, including some of our leading comedians and comic actors, all of whom have suffered problems with their mental health. Do we really think that they are all violent and dangerous?

Please do your part to break the stereotype.

Where we recognise mental ill-health we should treat people in a socially inclusive way, offer support and show that they are not alone; that they are accepted in our society and do what we can to promote their mental well-being to allow them to lead normal, fulfilling lives.

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