According to Mental Health Foundation, in England around 1 in 8 men has a common mental health problem. However, these are only the cases which get reported. Research shows many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. This is why we wanted to mark the end of Men’s Mental Health month with this very important chat about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health.
Some key points highlighted in the conversation included:
Starting conversations about mental health
It’s important to ask people more than just “how are you?”. This is because quite often people will say they’re fine, even if they’re not. It’s important to sit down with someone and have a proper conversation. We need to make it normal to talk about feelings from a young age. It’s also important to respect that some people will not feel comfortable talking face to face. Find out about people’s preferred modes of communication, be that phone, video call, email, text or in person. Everyone is different and we need to approach these conversations in an open, caring manner and be there to listen.
A useful article on How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health can be found here.
There are always going to be people who are better off or worse off than you are. Don’t put off getting help because you think there are people worse off than you. Mental health is personal, and someone else’s situation doesn’t make your struggles any less important.
Student Mental Health
According to a survey carried out by the Association of Veterinary Students, around 82% of students experience mental health or wellbeing issues within their studies. This makes student life hugely difficult so there is a need to have conversations about mental health early on in people’s careers so we can break down the stigma from the start. The wider profession needs to set an example for those entering the workforce, so the next generation can feel comfortable and confident talking about their mental health.
The language we use when talking about mental health is hugely important. Phrases tend to be thrown about frivolously such as “Oh I’m really OCD today” or “It’s raining – I’m so depressed!”. It’s important to reflect on how we express our feelings as using these terms incorrectly to express a passing emotion can be hugely damaging for those experiencing these mental health problems. This is what’s referred to as a microaggression. It’s not the intent with which things are said that matters, but the way in which these comments are received.
(For more on microaggressions, visit the BVA website where you can find resources as part of their #GoodWorkplaces campaign)
Honesty, taking pride in emotion and shared experience
Being honest about how you’re feeling is really important and expressing emotion is healthy and natural. Emotions connect people and sharing your emotions and experiences with others creates strong bonds between people. If you are willing and able to share your experiences, then you never know how big the impact will be – you could help many others realise they’re not alone. However, it’s important to note that disclosing personal feelings and thoughts is a very personal decision and everyone is different – not everyone will want to share their feelings with everyone else and that’s completely fine.
Sometimes people feel ashamed to ask for help when they need it, and this is sadly associated with suicidality. We shouldn’t see shame as an internal problem that needs to be fixed, but rather as a systemic issue which has been created by society and workplace environments. As Makenzie Peterson from AVMA said in our symposium last week ‘Organisations can put in place whatever they want, but you can’t downward dog your way out of a bad boss’. (Recordings of all symposium sessions will be available on our website in the next few weeks).
We need role models who we can all look up to when it comes to mental health. Whether that be older colleagues, younger colleagues, friends or family. Role models come in all shapes and forms, and we all need to be able to learn from each other and support each other depending on where we are in our lives. This is why we need to work together to break down the mental health stigma and build each other up rather than using our emotions to tear each other down. So thank you once again for becoming a part of this vital conversation.