Do Mental Health Awareness Days Actually Work?

Do they raise awareness or just give an opportunity to talk about how ill we are?

This year during a tsunami wave of Awareness Days for various mental health causes I found myself conflicted. As a blogger I feel almost obliged to write a summary of my story, list diagnoses and maybe share a selfie in aid of the cause. It’s what I’ve done previously along with many other bloggers, so why not this year?

This year I feel a bit sceptical over how much good some of the awareness campaigns are doing. In particular I think any social media campaigns on such days should be looked at carefully. I see a lot of people sharing their stories of mental illness in statuses and people who also suffer commenting on or sharing them. The mental health Twittersphere is enormous and very tight-knit. Sharing makes individuals with mental illness feel less alone, which is fantastic, but the message is not reaching far outside of the mental health community itself. Online communities are so important for supporting those with mental illness. On events like World Mental Health Day how do we spread the message to those who aren’t looking for it? 

According to TV Licensing 68% of the UK usually eat their evening meal in front of the TV. I’m really disappointed to not see any major documentaries shown to mark World Mental Health Day. A documentary on a major channel during prime time that someone not clued up on mental health might catch on a whim, would be really effective. Assemblies in schools which all students, mental health savvy or not, have to sit through. Big public events that  a stressed or distressed passerby might stumble across. These are great examples of awareness raising events. It is so important that we target those who don’t already know about good mental health.

There seems to be confusion in distinguishing between ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’- with some even using the terms interchangeably. On a mental health awareness day surely we should be stressing the health. Mental health and illness are not the same thing, in fact they are opposites. On an awareness day of mental health we should ideally see more articles and posts about how people keep, or try to keep, mentally healthy. Messages of encouragement, things that helped during struggles, symptoms you might feel too ashamed to seek help for, resources, support services. There is, after all, much more to gain from learning how to be mentally healthy than sharing what happens when you are not.

On social media are we being a little bit self serving? And is that a bad thing? Several Mental health tweeters responded to my call for a discussion on whether these days actually do what they say on the tin. Some even find the days overwhelming due to the influx of mental illness/health posts.

@bordeline_OK: "I worry that any "x day" ends up highlighting difference, not improving parity of care/esteem, not destigmatising, not removing barriers."@OCPDme: "On this account, the tsunami of MH awareness tweets was overwhelming."

@gerbillady: "Maybe on social media it enables people with mental health difficulties feel less alone. Depends what you mean by work."@WhiteCaneGamer: "If it takes a million tweets just to help one person who needed it, then let the tweets fly."

@AshleyCurryOCD: "Overall does it make impacts on improving access to right help and support from local servicesI think @AshleyCurryOCD sums the situation up well. Does it make an impact on improving access to services? In most cases no. I think our attention needs to shift to this as a goal. We should push for mental health to be a subject everyone knows about and make sure there is help so that everyone can gain it. We should support those with mental illness and treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health. People should be able to share their stories whenever they need to. There should be a day for mental illness awareness and visibility for people to learn compassion towards people with mental health problems. Days for awareness of individual mental illnesses are a fantastic idea and they should be just as well supported as the bigger events. Mental health is so important, and how to gain it should be public knowledge.

One thought on “Do Mental Health Awareness Days Actually Work?

  1. You ask an essential question: how DO we spread mental health awareness so that those who aren’t aware on any significant level might get at least a clue?

    TV documentaries or bulletins don’t happen without a great deal of money behind them – which means sponsorship, which will always include bias. Blogging spreads awareness of mental struggles beyond those with which sufferers experience personally – which widens important mental health community support. But we do seem to be speaking to each other choirs.

    After 25 years of mental health advocacy, the only thing that I have experienced that opens minds at all is to absolutely REFUSE to let ignorant or passive/aggressive comments slide – *especially* under the guise of humor. It doesn’t make one the most popular person in certain communities, but they are not particularly popular with me either.

    This is what I have come to say, “I don’t ever want to hear that kind of comment from you again. If you are not going to take the time to develop an educated opinion, at least keep the offensive comments off my radar.” If they apologize, then we can begin a discussion. Otherwise, at least they learn that not everyone agrees with their assessment.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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