Monday, 27 October 2014

Mental health - Epigram Editorial (27 October 2014)

Anyone can experience a mental health problem at any time. Around 20 per cent of students go through mental health issues at some point during their time at university, while 13 per cent experience suicidal thoughts. 

Mental health is something that, if not ourselves, will almost certainly affect a friend or family member at some stage, and something that is not always easily understood. We hope that the extensive coverage in our Features section can inform those in need about the range or services available in and around Bristol University, and also inform other readers about some of the most common myths and stigma.
The lack of visible symptoms can mean that intervention is not made until late on, sometimes tragically so.
One of the many troubling elements of mental health issues can be its invisibility. The lack of visible symptoms can mean that intervention is not made until late on, sometimes tragically so. For something not always easily noticed, it is imperative that the stigma around mental health issues is tackled so that we create an environment in which sufferers feel comfortable to tell people and seek help and time off work and education if necessary.
People don’t always understand the severity of mental illness: depression is not just a question of cheering up.
The notion that ‘stigma around mental illness does not exist’, as some columnists in national newspapers have worryingly argued, is a complete myth.
Stigma and discrimination have not been completely rooted out. If they had been, why would so many sufferers feel the need to call in to work to say that they have the flu or have to take their grandfather in to hospital rather than tell their employer that they have depression? Many fear that if they don’t come into work one week because of mental health issues, their boss won’t understand like they would if they had broken a leg or had to go into hospital for an operation. They feel safe that their boss will understand that rather than question a story about a broken limb or an ill grandparent. Well-known depression sufferer Alastair Campbell has given the example of a nurse who ‘Felt compelled to “hide” six months of her life from her CV when she had been off with chronic post natal depression’ because she was going for promotion and worried that it would hurt her chances.
Many sufferers fear that if they don’t come into work one week, their employer wouldn’t understand
It is important that such stigma can be tackled here at Bristol, and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of staff members in and around the University already understand and will increasingly understand students feeling the need to take time off their studies as a result of mental health difficulties as awareness rises.
While similar numbers of men and women suffer from mental health issues, men are less likely to seek help or feel that they can admit to what may seem like weakness. This is down to the old-fashioned gender expectations which still pervade society. Even the use of language which reinforces them, and seemingly innocuous phrases and throwaway remarks like ‘Man up’, are an issue. They hardly help change the fact that men are more unlikely to open up about mental health problems.
It is vitally important, therefore, that as well as informing those suffering from mental health issues about where they can go to get help, this issue also informs those who may know someone suffering from symptoms about how they can look out for them. If it does either of those things, even to a small extent, it will have been a success.
This is not an issue that only a minority of readers should be concerned about. It is a fundamental topic which all of us should do our bit to educate ourselves about, spread awareness about the barriers which sufferers face and be ready to help anyone who needs it.

Originally published at: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/10/letter-from-the-editor.

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