This content mentions depression, anxiety and self-harm. Please read with care. There are details of where to find help at the bottom of this page.
Slowly but surely, mental health stigma is decreasing. However, this article will show we’ve still some way to go. We asked people with lived experience of mental health problems what they wish people knew about mental ill-health.
1. Everybody is different
Mental health problems affect people in different ways. No two people behave or feel exactly the same way when they are unwell. Likewise, there is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for mental ill-health – medication may work for some, and not for others. The same applies to mindfulness, exercise or talking therapies.
2. Feelings can fluctuate
Dealing with mental health problems is a work in progress. There are ups and downs and these can happen at any time. Just because someone seems well does not mean that they are well.
3. It’s not a choice
“People also seem to think that mental ill-health is some sort of choice. You can't choose not to have mental ill-health any more than you can choose not to have cancer...”
Nobody chooses to have a mental health problem, just like people don’t choose to have physical health problems. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can be severe and long-lasting and have a big impact on someone’s life.
4. I can’t just “snap out of it”
Mental ill-health is complex and can be difficult to deal with, it is not something you just “snap out of”. It takes time to recover from or learn how to manage a mental health problem.
5. People experiencing mental health problems are not weak
Mental health problems affect the way people think, feel and behave. They can also experience unpleasant physical symptoms. Managing all of these experiences is a sign of strength and not weakness.
6. Mental health and physical health are linked
“The fatigue that comes with it. Nobody seems to understand that it not only affects you emotionally, but physically too”
Living with a mental health problem can affect your physical health too. The physical effects of mental health problems can include tiredness, loss of appetite and aches and pains in the body. In the same way, engaging in exercise can have a positive effect on mental health.
7. It’s not about feeling sad and happy
Mental health problems vary in nature. They range from the worries we all experience as part of daily life to serious long-term conditions. Living with mental ill-health can affect all areas of a person’s life, from carrying out daily tasks to forming healthy relationships.
8. It may be invisible, but it’s still there
“Although they can't see the illness, it's still there.”
You may not be able to tell by looking at a person that they have a mental health problem. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or is “all in their head”. The effects of mental ill-health are very real.
9. Self-harm isn’t attention-seeking
“That self-harm isn't for attention.”
Someone may use self-harm as a way of coping with negative thoughts or feelings. Many people who self-harm don’t talk to anyone about what they are going through. Breaking down myths such as these can encourage people who self-harm to talk about their experiences and seek support early.
‘The truth about self-harm’ covers more information on self-harm and other myths.
10. I’m not ‘crazy’
Just as we can all experience physical ill-health, we can also experience mental health problems. 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem in any given year. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can recover or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on. Stigmatising language such as this can prevent people from getting the help they need at the right time.
11. It’s not a reflection on you…
“That if I’m grumpy or uncomfortable around you, don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. I have anxiety, I’m like this around everyone”
Mental health problems can cause people to withdraw, become more irritable or behave differently than usual. It is important to focus on how the person is feeling rather than how they act towards you. Try not to take it personally as it can be a symptom of a mental health problem.
12. Don’t tear me down
Living with mental health problems can be challenging in itself. It may be difficult to understand why someone may be feeling or behaving a certain way. Regardless, it is important to offer support in a non-judgemental, respectful and caring way.
13. Talk to me
Just because someone isn’t being vocal doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk. If you see someone going through a hard time, talking to them is often a good step to take. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.
If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.