Awareness, barriers and toxic positivity: World Mental Health Day 2023

Has something ever stopped or deterred you from accessing support for your mental health? If yes, what was it?

Depending on who you are, and where you come from, there could be a myriad of obstacles to getting mental health support.

Last week someone I know told me how much relief it would bring them to be able to tell their work colleagues about their mental health struggles, but said that they were terrified of being discriminated against. As a mental health advocate and blogger people often tell me they ‘wish they could be open about their mental health’ like me. Almost always, my internal self screams “Don’t do it!.” 

I don’t regret opening up one bit and I want people to open up and speak up in a safe space but my cognitive dissonance around this stems from my own lengthy list of experiences of being discriminated against in several spaces, including workplaces. 

Having good mental health is a universal human right, so people should be able to get help when they need it. But unfortunately, some groups of people face more barriers to good mental health than others. I’m speaking as an ethnic minority, immigrant woman with mental health problems. 

Despite all the great work that’s gone into normalising more common mental health problems like depression and anxiety, stigma and rotten attitudes persist, with its roots stretching far beneath the surface of places you’d think it… Share on X

I’ve had my diagnoses and the fact that I’m an immigrant thrown in my face like its contagion when bullied, I’ve had an employer announce my diagnosis to the office as justification for her aggressive shouting at me, and I’ve had people report that opportunities were withheld from me solely because of my diagnoses, like I was being done a kindness (better for my wellbeing they said). People (employers, families and communities) delude themselves with toxic positivity. 

Barriers

Don’t encourage toxic positivity. 

For those of us with mental health problems, the world is already an unequal place, thanks to stigma and discrimination. Despite all the great work that’s gone into normalising more common mental health problems like depression and anxiety, stigma and rotten attitudes persist, with its roots stretching far beneath the surface  of places you’d think it wouldn’t. 

The barriers to getting the right support layer up even more for people from certain backgrounds like ethnic minority groups, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+, travelers, veterans, and homeless (not an exhaustive list.) Because in addition to dealing with stigma these groups often have to deal with things like racism, sexism, bigotry, and social inequalities. The cycle perpetuates. More mental health inequalities lead to higher rates of mental health problems for these groups.

According to the Metal Health Foundation,

38 percent of people with severe symptoms of mental health problems also have a long term physical conditions

Asylum seekers are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the rest of the population

Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than White people

Older South Asian women are an at-risk group for suicide

Gypsies and Travelers are three times more likely to be anxious than the average person and just over twice as likely to be depressed.

Women are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse, which can have a long-term impact on their mental health.

Find out more about different community are affected by mental health problems and barriers.

I’m pleased that we are all more aware, but I’m ready for everyone (including the media)  to start having some of the more difficult conversations. It’s not always a neat story where someone sees a therapist and gets cognitive behavioural therapy for three weeks then voila, depression evaporated.  What if you or someone you know are perpetuating stigma with toxic positivity at work, at home, church, or your community group? Then what?

What can I do?

Here’s the reality: Some of us live with suicidal ideation. Some of us pretend to be okay because suffering in silence seems better than dealing with offhand comments from people who are ‘supposed to know better.’ Some of us are isolated and vulnerable because our communities – families, and religious communities judge us, treat us like it’s self-inflicted, tell us to pray it away or “shake it off” like it’s dandruff on our shoulders. Some of us hurt ourselves because it’s the only way we know how to cope. And some of us might mean well but we use mental health problems like weapons when the situation suits. 

It’s not always a neat story where someone sees a therapist and gets cognitive behavioural therapy for three weeks then voila, depression evaporated. Share on X

People won’t get the help they need if they’re stuck in the shadows alone. If we all start trying to be aware, try to understand the unconscious biases we have, and try to learn with love and an open heart, we can create a safe world for everyone to have a chance of having good mental health. 

It can be hard to know where to start when tackling mental health but I want to challenge you to:

Speak: Try speaking openly about mental health, whether it’s yours or speaking to someone about theirs

Ask yourself: The next time you respond to someone talking about mental health, pause and ask yourself ‘Am I speaking from a place of compassion and love?’ ‘Is there judgement in my response?’ 

Learn: Educate yourself about mental health and the kinds of barriers people face. Make sure you’re not perpetuating the barriers others face.

Helpful resources 

Gentle hugs xx

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