World Mental Health Day, what does that really mean?

By Ambassador Rick Rossiter

Today is World Mental Health Day, but what does that really mean? Is this the only day that we recognise our mental health? Or is it to bring about awareness to something that we should already be self-aware of?

I know that these types of worldly or national days are to highlight the issues and to bring it further into the consciousness of society but where does it go from there, like the day, weeks and months after all the way up until next year’s World Mental Health Day?

There are many blind spots when it comes to mental health, with cracks, corners and red tape to navigate through, along with limited funding and resources from the government. But for the most part each year does seem to get better than the last, though this varies throughout the country. There is so much more that we can do but in the same breath there is much happening.

Mental Health Awareness is just like a mental health journey, it comes in stages for people on different levels. Some people’s awareness comes from a personal experience or from others close to them. Most comes from the media, mental health groups and the endless campaigns, events, fundraisers and promotions. Ireland feels almost revolutionary when it comes to mental health. The sheer number of support and voluntary groups is breath-taking, along with the near countless other groups that deal with an array of issues depending on an individual’s needs. But is all this awareness helping, does it have an impact on people?

Most mental health journey stages seemingly last forever, especially the darker ones that make you feel as if nothing will ever be normal again, that time when you feel like defeat is just around the corner. This is limbo in all its indignation and this is the time when walls go up and nothing gets in. I’ve been in this limbo several times and it’s a scary and lonely place.

I am reminded of a day last May, during Irelands Mental Health Month; I was at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, handing out Green Ribbons from See Change. I was there to speak for The College of Psychiatrists as part of Refocus for their annual Walk & Talk event in support of Green Ribbon and to showcase the College’s vast knowledge on mental health.

People were walking by and we handed out the Ribbons, some thought we were looking for donations, which we weren’t; the Ribbons are always given out freely. While most took them and went on their way, a small group of women walked by and I said, “Would you like a free ribbon in support of mental health awareness”? They walked past without a second look, the last woman to pass just looked at me and without any expression said, “I have my own to worry about,” and walked on.

This took me off guard, I thought, ‘this is the whole point’. I was a bit annoyed for a while to be honest, her words stuck into my head but as they mixed around a little longer I began to see her point. I began to remember those exact feelings when I was battling the darkness of my own mental health.

For all the Ribbons, t-shirts, badges, wristbands, stickers and posters out there, there is that moment in a person’s journey down the rabbit hole where all the awareness, media exposure and smiling faces are just as helpful as a smack in the head. It all feels fake and condescending in many ways and for all I cared none of it helped or encouraged me in the slightest to better my lot.

That was how I felt in my darker stage, but I can say wholeheartedly that even the slightest bit of awareness I was exposed to did have an impact for the better. Whether it was like a whisper in the wind or a bellowing roar it did change things, and as my stages moved on so did I.

So looking back I can understand this woman’s words, and more to the fact the emotions that were behind them. I knew which stage she was in, but I also know that this stage does for the most part pass and that the awareness does begin. We just need to find better ways to make a person’s journey much shorter and to be more proactive in our own mental health. We need find ways to engage everyone throughout our nation and beyond our borders in a conversation about mental health. For that woman who had her wall up, I hope it has come down.

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