The problem I have with #WorldMentalHealthDay as a hashtag is that I feel like it has become a part of the denial. The one designated day a year when public honesty on social media is sanctioned. No more performing wellness and presenting your best life. It’s the one day a year that vulnerability is okay. For me, it goes without saying every day is World Mental Health Day. Twitter is usually where I do my over-sharing but I can’t help but notice how those who use Facebook to maintain their constant support network usually let today slide by without comment. For so many, popping an SSRI is a secret daily ritual. Checking in with your friends should be too. As should checking in with yourself.
I was applying for a teaching job recently with a charity that seeks to boost disadvantaged kids in mainstream education. To check I was qualified I had to give an account of my entire education history. It’s kinda weird to be graduating from a Master’s degree with Distinction and then have to account for my GCSEs for which I had a least one of every grade available, followed by consistently average A Levels. At the time I was told it was because I listened to too much Radiohead. To then jump to top grades at graduate and postgraduate level looks weird on my CV but I generally don’t try to account for it.
I know now that my depression is hardwired. I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. It defines even my primary school education. It’s only now in my mid-20s that I acknowledge that I’m in it for the long haul.
So, this time, I did something I hadn’t done before with a job application. I made my history of depression the defining aspect of my application. Rather than bury it, I decided to highlight it as a positive for the role. I’m empathetic. I’m resilient. I’m sensitive to the needs of myself and others. I know how it feels to have all the odds stacked against you and that a GCSE or A Level exam feels like the most pointless thing in the world. I also know what it is to put more than you have to give into an essay assignment because your mark won’t just affect your prospects but your entire self-worth. I’ve done both sides so put me in a modern classroom and I can support it. This year has intensified my desire to teach more than anything because the right atmosphere really helps but so much of our education system remains a part of the problem. School made my mental health worse. Social media can’t make up for that. I want to change things at the source. This morning I got a call back for interview to secure a place on a training programme to take place next summer.
The moral here for me is that, yes, I have my own reasons for my own experiences, and my previously lame and contradictory coping strategies have shaped me as much as events beyond my control, but what I know more than anything is that none of it really matters. To share those stories today in an act of sanctioned honesty doesn’t do anything. To simply say “We need to talk more” on social media doesn’t do anything either. Every other day of the year, social media is one of the most detrimental things to our collective mental health. It isolates as much as it connects. What I know now more than anything is that everyone is broken, whether they talk about it on social media or not. Literally everyone. Because we all live under these same conditions and they chip away at all of us. We should look out for each other more regardless of mental health rhetoric. We should seek the kind of “collective subjectivity” that Mark talked about and a hashtag isn’t going to do that.
The statistic usually trotted out today is Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. I feel that “each year” usually gets glossed over. Mental health issues are not the statistical equivalent of cancer. They’re the equivalent of the common cold. Support needs to go far deeper than Facebook status confessions.