Mental Health Awareness Week: Talking and The Toenail Metaphor

I was alerted to the fact that it is mental health awareness week via Twitter, and after checking that I am in the correct country to take part I decided to begin this two-part series of blogs. I will be focussing on the lack of conversation about mental health and also the huge amount of incorrect language used when we eventually do talk about it. This will be alongside my normal writing schedule.

Firstly- the lack of talking.

For years we have had this idea as a society that people with mental health problems are just ‘mad’. They are not thinking correctly so therefore why should we listen to them/give them jobs? Luckily this image is slowly shifting with more and more people in the spotlight talking about their mental health problems. After all, a massive 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental illness at some point in our lives.

But why is this important? Why should people talk about mental health?

OK, so somewhere around a quarter of us will be suffering from mental illness at any one time. Lets change this scenario for say… your toenails falling off. You get home from school or work – you are ready to kick back and relax. You take off your jacket and reach for your slippers. They are the comfy kind you get for christmas from relatives who don’t know you very well, but you like them all the same. You unlace your shoes and take off your socks. You stop. Inside the sock you can feel small hard lumps and on the floor you see that one of them has tumbled out. It is a toenail. You look at your feet and see that all of your toenails have fallen off. There is no apparent reason, they look perfectly healthy, but they are just not on your feet.

At first you laugh it off but then worry sets in. Why would all ten fall off at the same time? You decide to google it. No one seems to have ever had the same issue as you and all you can find are gruesome pictures of infections. The next day you go out to meet some friends for a coffee. As you chat you realise you would really like to ask them if the same thing has ever happened to them. Perhaps they could give some advice? But you are too embarrassed to speak out and take another glug of your latte instead. Little do you know that across the table your best friend’s big toenail is only just growing back after being absent for months. You have no idea.

At the weekend you go home to your parents. You decide you could ask your Mum- after all there is a slim chance that it might be genetic. She asks you a million questions you don’t know the answer to and prods and pokes at your feet. She doesn’t give you an answer so you leave feeling worse than when you came. Seconds after you have shut the front door behind you she paints the skin where her toenails used to be so no one will notice when she wears sandals at her friend’s barbecue.

By now you have come to the conclusion that you must be the only person in the whole world that this has ever happened to. You feel like you are weird, and you begin to question whether your nails are actually there or not. Or in fact; did you ever have them in the first place? This small issue has grown and you are now scared and desperate. Then in one last attempt to find someone who has gone through the same thing as you, you turn to the internet once more. After some digging you find the correct links to click. Suddenly you see that it is something which a vast amount of people will go through at some point. You are not alone and there are ways for it to get better. Some people’s toes are worse than yours and some people’s are better – but you all share the common need for toenails!

If anyone had said something sooner along the line then you wouldn’t have been so upset by what happened. You would know that there are treatments out there for your toenails to regain strength. This is mental illness. We have come a long way in how we see mental health problems, but there are still many barriers. If you know you aren’t feeling right- talk about it. Chances are the person you talk to will have gone through a similar thing or know someone who has. Mental illness is invisible- so you don’t know until you ask!

Picture of two feet, on the big toe are smiley faces drawn on in black ink.

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