Kindness is Nice, But Here’s What People with Mental Health Issues Really Need From You

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We need to change society so that supporting someone with mental health issues is seen not as optional but integrated into all structures and thinking

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This article has been re-shared from it’s original source, The Guardian

If you have been inundated today with people on Facebook, Twitter and daytime television imploring you to discuss mental health, that is because it is Time to Talk day. Mired in politeness and caution, people with mental health difficulties across the UK have gently requested kindness and understanding. Perhaps you’ve made the right noises and nodded sympathetically. You’ll probably feel you did the right thing, but unfortunately your compassion will not be enough to change anything.

In his novel Things Can Only Get Better, John O’Farrell recalls having the Jamaican poet Michael Smith as a guest at an early 80s university radical poetry evening. Afterwards Smith was turned away from a club for being black. Back at a student house Smith exclaimed: “I want justice!” to be answered by a young woman saying “I can’t give you justice but I can give you a hug.” This is where we’re at with mental health in the UK.

Anyone can endorse nice sentiments. Theresa May raised the issue of the importance of such conversations just last month. But the fact is that people with mental health difficulties often experience shorter, poorer, unhappier lives. In the UK, people diagnosed with schizophrenia run the risk of dying 20 years earlier than the average British person. Those who have psychological problems during childhood earn 25% less than those who didn’t by the age of 50.

Experiencing mental health issues often leads to exclusion. You either take yourself away from others or others take themselves away from you. Suddenly relationships you thought you were driving career into the central reservation at high speed in a tangle of steel and glass. Work, school or college might go wrong. But none of these things cause exclusion. How society treats and stigmatises a person when that happens is what causes exclusion.

If you care about people with mental health difficulties then you have to be prepared to make changes, not just to your attitude but in the way you want your country to work. As a starting point, it would be wise to stop telling people to seek help and support that you know isn’t there. Austerity has gutted our communities of organisations that can make life liveable with mental health issues. Admit that it is not mental ill health that plunges people into crisis, it is the lack of support, protection and assistance that does that.