Telling people to ‘speak up’ and ‘be kind’ on social media isn’t going to change the fact that mental health services are failing the working class
Mental health is becoming a more popular topic on social media, and that’s great for three reasons: It educates people who don’t have a personal understanding of mental illness, it encourages those who do to talk about it more openly, and it comforts those suffering, letting them know they’re not alone.
But as much as I think it’s helpful, I am absolutely over the constant messages of #BeKind, ‘Speak up!’ and ‘Check in on your friends!’ Yes, these messages can be helpful, but when they’re used over and over again every single time a hashtag is trending, they become empty and meaningless.
I have a pretty complex history of mental illness — having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Each illness requires different treatment, including psychiatry, psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy. But as someone who is working class, being able to afford all of these things privately is impossible (the costs are eye-watering) and therefore I rely on the NHS for most of my treatment.
I currently pay privately for CBT. But I haven’t been able to do it properly, because there are some weeks that I just cannot afford it. And when I can, it’s because I’ve made other sacrifices like working all through the night even though I gave birth just six months ago.
I have been under the Crisis team four times, each time lasting a few weeks to a maximum of a couple of months, before being left without any help again. I’ve been told I’d need to have intent to harm myself to get a hospital admission. The one time the Crisis team did attempt to admit me, on a voluntary basis, there were no beds — not even two hours away. Yes, people who are seriously mentally unwell are at times admitted to hospitals hours away from their friends and family because that is their only option.
Relying on the NHS is at the best frustrating and at worst completely soul-destroying. Yes, I am grateful for the healthcare system, but we can’t ignore its failures. The mental health services are the most underfunded sector of the NHS, despite mental illness being more prevalent than ever.
Being declined CBT on the NHS is the reason I had to go private — and yes, it was a need to be able to function properly — and I have one appointment with my psychiatrist every ten weeks or so — which is currently a ten minute appointment to check how I’m doing on my medication.
NHS mental health resources are limited and that means excessive waiting times, limited and even unavailable care and people not getting the treatment they need. And unfortunately, this is namely a working class issue. No, mental illness does not discriminate and can affect people of all classes — but middle and upper class people have the means for more luxurious (and better) options like private, high-end therapy, while those of us struggling to get by financially also have to struggle to get any help.
Professional treatment isn’t the only thing that needs to be addressed here, either. It’s also how the media, and society in general, treat people with mental illnesses. Lazy, selfish, dramatic, crazy, attention-seeking and stupid are just a few things we hear quite often. Men are told to man up, women are told to stop being so hormonal. We’re told to get over it and that other people have it worse. Newspapers describe mental illness in a dangerous way, bringing possible mental health issues to the forefront of dangerous cases reported on — sending the message that people with mental illness must be dangerous people (which is factually wrong, people with mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else).
Every time a new awareness day comes around, I dread it and tend to delete my social media apps to avoid it. Because I know that for a lot of people, it’s nothing but an opportunity to write a message that makes them look good, to get a few likes and retweets, and makes them feel better about themselves for joining in. Others join in because everyone else is talking about it and they don’t want to look bad for staying silent — even though they’re silent every other day of the year. But I, and many other people suffering with mental illness know that so often, these ‘Speak out!’ messages will quickly fade away from the timeline when the awareness day is over and mental health is no longer the trending topic. But mental illness affects people 365 days a year.
I think one of the things that hurts the most is seeing messages from people that contradicts your own experiences with them. When people tell you to be kind, but have said hurtful things to you. When they tell you to speak out, but when you’ve gone to them for help they’ve ignored you or made you feel like you’re a burden. When they tell you to check in on your friends, you haven’t heard from them in months.
And regardless of this, these types of encouraging (yet tired) messages are only marginally helpful.
A person making a trending tweet, a brand selling t-shirts with mental health slogans and a social media platform reminding its users to be kind (while allowing abusive and racist content on their platforms) doesn’t change the fact that the mental health services are failing. It doesn’t change the fact that people are waiting more than a year for mental health assessments, or are declined therapies they need because they’re not the right sort of candidate for it (yes, really). And it doesn’t change the fact that people who are seriously unwell can’t get a bed in a hospital or that hospitals are being forced to shut down to make way for new housing estates.
Taking two seconds to write a quick tweet doesn’t change any of this. It would almost be a completely pointless thing to do if it didn’t help at least one person feel comforted and reassured that they’re not alone.
But if you actually care about mental illness beyond a tweet on the one day the topic is trending, there are actual helpful things that you can do. Talk about mental illness more than one day a year. Remind people that it is not a trend and that it is something that ruins lives — and ends them. Start petitions for better funding. Stop telling people to speak up without educating yourself on why people might not want to. Learn mental health first aid. Get involved with mental health charities. Write to your local MP to encourage positive changes to your local mental health resources. Read blogs written by people with mental illness (like this one right here!) to get more of an understanding over what we go through on a daily basis. At the very least, act on the messages you’re posting: Check in on your friends and be kind.
Mental health isn’t a trend. It isn’t a social media campaign. It is painful and torturing and life-threatening.
It’s time to stop telling strangers to be kind, and to start making real changes.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to Hattie for writing this blog for InSPIre the Mind. Hattie Gladwell is a freelance journalist, writing for the likes of the Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Independent and Grazia and more. She is also a mental health advocate. We are very honoured that Hattie has written for us here at InSPIre the Mind and especially for sharing such an incredible blog touching on her own experiences — thank you Hattie!