The world is such a busy place. We’re constantly on the go, flitting between all of the demands that are placed on us by others. It sometimes feel as though we just don’t come up for air, or indeed provide ourselves with the permission to push everything aside, in order to focus on what matters.

Today, on World Mental Health Day, it has been incredible to see so much focus placed on mental health. From heartfelt experiences shared by individuals, to quotes of inspiration and reminders from people that their door is always open – it’s refreshing to see that this once taboo, under the carpet topic is well and truly in the public domain.

Mental health problems affects one in four of us, yet people are still afraid to talk about ‘it’. But what saddens me is the distinction that remains of mental health from our overall health and wellbeing. We find the need to separate out ‘mental health’ from our ‘physical health’ – with little recognition and reflection around how the two cannot, and should never, be viewed as separate entities. We are people, and as people we should remain. We need a new, refreshed approach to the way our society operates – in order to prevent the difficult challenges that millions of people around the world face, each day.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for World Mental Health Day, appropriately titled ‘Label jars, not people‘. Yet, as a society, there’s a subconscious drive for us to label everything – the levels our children are performing at in Maths, through to how we perform under pressure, the symptoms that we experience, the conditions we’re believed to have, and the type of personality we have. Everywhere we look, there’s this expectation that we need to fit neatly into a box – a tick next to a dull and dreary descriptor. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way the world works – nor is it the way that it should work.

As someone who has had a number of labels pinned to them over the years, I feel so strongly about this point. Growing up, I had a lot of stuff to deal with – but it was all boxed nicely into the ‘physical’ health pile. What was never dealt with, or rather discussed, was all of the other ‘stuff’ that came with those conditions – that came with me. The anxiety of panicking if I couldn’t find a toilet in time. The snide remarks of other kids about that boy with granny’s arthritis. The presumption that I wouldn’t be able to do things, so we’ll just not ask. The name calling for looking different. The doctors not believing me. The thoughts that all of this was in my head. The isolation from everyone else. The jealously from others because you’ve put your heart and soul into making a difference. The assumption that because you smile, that you’re on cloud nine… the list could go on, but you get the picture.

I’m a simple person who hides a thousand feelings behind the happiest smile.”

Each and everyone of us has a mind – a beautiful, precious part of us which is just as vulnerable as the rest of us. It’s time that we spoke openly, and honestly, about ourselves – without judgment, without prejudice, without fear. At the end of the day, we’re all the same. So remember – it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel confused. It’s okay to not be okay. But above all, the most important thing to remember is that it’s okay to put yourself first. You are far more important than any exam, interview, meeting or lunch date. Take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself – because you matter.

Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”

 

Written by simonrstones

Simon Stones BSc (Hons) is an award-winning patient leader, advocate and researcher from Manchester in the UK, who was the winner of the international WEGO Health Award for Patient Healthcare Collaborator in 2017. He is a passionate advocate and ambassador for people living with invisible illnesses, inspired and empowered by his own journey with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory bowel disease since childhood. He is currently an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and a trustee of Fibromyalgia Action UK and RAiISE.

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