We need to talk about mental health

Ending the stigma around mental illness has become little more than a catchy sound bite for universities and establishments all round. It’s easy to say you support mentally ill people, but the reality is that most people are just paying lip service to the concept. Mental illness is surrounded by a cloud of problematic associations; neurotypical people romanticising things like depression just being one of the more prevalent and visible ones.

Support and ending stigma needs to come on more than one level. It needs to come in the form of structural change, with universities stepping up their game and treating it like the real problem that it is, especially on campuses. Mental health services need to be made more widely available, on and off universities campus. Universities have a responsibility to deal with this, and can no longer afford to brush it off as a marginal problem when it affects one in five students. One in five students suffering from a serious physical ailment would be considered an epidemic.

There’s little hope for an expansion of mental health services coming under this government, who are determined to slash and burn any public services that aid already marginalised groups. This means the pressure is on for universities – now, more than ever, they have a duty to step up and provide services most of them are sorely lacking. Universities must do better when it comes to mental illness and course assessment – telling students that their case will be ‘assessed’ and they may not get the extension they need really is not good enough, and only adds to the stress and anxiety they’re already experiencing. Counselling needs to step up too: the University of Edinburgh provides only six counselling sessions, after which, if not miraculously cured, you are encouraged to redirect your problems elsewhere – to a massively underfunded NHS, where mental health was never a priority anyway, or the private sector.

The stigma around mental health means most people suffering from a mental illness receive no help. The way mentally ill people are portrayed in cinema is problematic to say the least; the typical association with mental illness in film is violence. This unrealistic cinematic portrayal definitely has a hand in influencing perceptions and exacerbating the problem of stigma; one in three people think mentally ill people are likely to be violent, whereas the reality is that mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

The hypocrisy over tolerance to mental illness is not just apparent in establishments, but individuals too. Everyone’s supportive until the person begins displaying symptoms that don’t fit their cookie-cut out version of what they think mental illness looks like, or until you’re too problematic and tiring to be around. Depression is boring and repetitive, anxiety is putting it on, and let’s not even think about less socially acceptable illnesses like schizophrenia. A lot of the time, people don’t speak up about what’s going on because more often than not, even when well meaning, it’s met with a patronising response like ‘just calm down’ or my personal favourite: ‘it’s all in your head.’

Part of the problem with romanticising mental illness stems from the fact that it’s so fake. Cliché as it is, depression is not crying a lot and still looking hot – it’s not showering for days and not leaving your flat for even longer. And yes, few of the people who ‘support’ mentally ill people and want to end the stigma around it will still be there when it’s been months on end of the same shit.

Image credit: Steven Depolo

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