Mental Health Awareness Week is NOT the answer!

Controversial? Not one bit. Awareness is great, I tell everyone that – awareness is the very first step and it brings people from a place of ignorance to at least having some knowledge, but awareness doesn’t change anything.

Let me put it like this, I can go to get dressed in a morning and find that my jeans won’t fasten … hmmm. I am now AWARE that I have put weight on, great. I can carry on being aware and carry on being overweight OR I can positive action to bring about change – awareness is simply not enough.

Take this week for example, which is Mental Health Awareness Week and don’t get me wrong, it is a great initiative for raising awareness – it’s a first step, but that is all it is.

It’s a bit like a firework display – attracts attention, fun while it lasts, has high impact, noisy and pulls a crowd, gets people engaged and perhaps impressed and even talking,  but the real work we need is action following that. Action every day of the year. That has to be like a bonfire that is burning 365 days a year in the background as mental health is not just “one week”, it is 365 days a year. The age of awareness is past – action is what is needed and positive action and fast!

So many initiatives that encourage people to reach out if they are struggling are great, but actually as a society we need to learn to reach in. Sadly recent statistics show that the national rate of suicide has increased again this last year – when people are overwhelmed and feeling hopeless, worthless and like a burden to others, reaching out is a challenge in itself. Trying to reach out when you already feel like a burden, trying to raise a hand when you are bogged down with the heaviest of emotions, trapped inside a toxic bubble with only your own thoughts for company and the pain intensifying – reaching out is almost physically impossible. My mission is to help more people REACH IN. Not only reaching in to help others, but also reaching in to help themselves, to be able to spot the signs and symptoms when things aren’t quite right – the time when stress becomes distress and turns to overwhelm, the time when you start to wonder if it is all worth it and whether life will ever be any better …

After awareness we need to educate, inform, take action to help people see that you don’t have to be a mental health expert or trained counsellor to help someone in crisis. As little as a 20 minute conversation has been KNOWN to save a life, to give someone a different perspective, to help them see there may be other options. People who are having thoughts of suicide don’t want to die, they want their pain to stop.

We need to be able to better spot the signs and symptoms and offer practical, results focused ways of developing coping strategies and safety plans. Nobody is immune. When we move from stress to distress to overwhelm to suicide, there is always an opportunity for an intervention that gives us help and hope – awareness is great, action creates change so whilst Awareness Weeks are marvellous things, as are firework displays, they have a part to play but they are NOT the answer, they are not the be all and end all, action is where it is at.

We ALL have a part to play in our community. Employer, neighbour, family or friend – nobody is immune. Not everyone who is having thoughts of suicide will be diagnosed with a mental illness – for some of us, life and it’s challenges just got too much – the pain exceeded the resources for coping with pain and our brain couldn’t find a solution. We are all vulnerable.

I am offering a FREE webinar this Friday 17th May at 11am as part of MHAW and anyone is welcome to sign up and attend, free! Whether you are an employer or not, the skills and confidence to help someone in crisis are essential as NOBODY IS IMMUNE.

Thank you for your time