5 reasons why we need mental health advocates

We’re living, as many of us can tell, interesting times. The pandemic has forced us to see the real dimensions of some issues often put aside from the public conversation. It showed us how those things we claimed to be not important enough to be prioritized had an impact on so many areas of our lives. And the mental health, the caregivers, were two of the things we’ve finally got to see that can not be postponed anymore.

Because, as much as we wouldn’t want to admit it, there is a great need for mental health services. There are people in need that can not afford the costs of their therapy sessions. There are no programs to support people’s access to mental health services. And there is for sure necessary to have mental health advocates. Here’s why.

  • Mental health issues occur at earlier ages than before

It ain’t easy being a child or a teenager in this era. Everything has to happen now to be relevant, and the pressure is huge. Family pressure, peer pressure, social pressure, everything has an impact on our children’s mental health. And there are enough studies that warn us about the symptoms of anxiety and depression having a rise in the age group 10-13. Our pre-teens are not alright, and their mental health is just as important as their physical one. What are we actually doing for them?

  • Mental health is a matter of public interest

There is no single aspect of someone’s life to not be affected by their mental health status. It affects their consuming behaviors, work patterns, productivity, empathy, ways of interacting with other people, everything one could possibly think about. In extreme cases, it is a matter affecting public safety, as well as the individual’s safety. And there is no responsible society letting their most vulnerable citizens deal with this on their own.

  • Mental health affects everyone’s lives

Mental health issues are not individual but systemic issues. They are the result of living in a hostile society. But they also have an impact at a social level: people needing mental healthcare are harder to be included on the job market, have less social ties, and sometimes become bargains for their close ones. Things that could be avoided if there would be a support system that would tackle the mental health challenges from their very beginning. If only there would be someone there to actually take the time and listen.

  • The social stigma associated with mental health services prevent people from seeking help

This is, besides the political and institutional aspects, one of the greatest challenges of anyone who’s advocating for mental healthcare. The associated stigma, which is still very powerful.

Besides the financial aspects, as for many people the psychotherapy sessions are not immediately affordable, they also have to fight the associated stigma. Because the belief that someone seeing a psychotherapist is a misfit remains, despite all the mental health awareness and resources across the Internet, still powerful and common.

These are just a small part of the reasons that make mental health a political matter. Because it concerns each and every one of us. Because it could be you or someone dear to you that’s going to struggle tomorrow. Because having a safety net that’s been well-built is an incredible asset in times of extreme uncertainty. Because mental health is health. There’s no such thing as harmful as the separation between physical and mental health. They’re both essential parts of what’s called being human. 

Because being an advocate for mental healthcare is one of the bravest things one can do. It takes courage and an in-depth understanding of their privilege to come and stand up for such a vulnerable matter. In the long run, though, it remains a battle that, if chosen by many, will benefit us all. But for that day to come, there’s a need for activists and advocates of the seemingly easy to understand idea that mental health is just as important as the health of our bodies.

Love on display

Time passed, a lot of things happened, and yet, February has arrived again. And, as in any other February, love statements are being shown off everywhere. I mean, if not during the love month, then…when?

My subjective answer to this question is daily. Because, if you love, if you really love somebody, then you love them daily. And you prove your life to them daily, not only a few days a year. That is anything but love, at least in my book.

I write this piece as V-Day’s approaching. The thing is that now, unlike a normal year, it hits different. Like anything else, love and dating have been tested a lot. And, if anything happened, it was a shift in the way we’re looking at our romantic ties.

We feel the need to be loved, appreciated, and held, now maybe more than ever. We need contact with others, physical affection, and emotional support. We’ve seen couples breaking up after years and years, and couples that have only grown stronger from this.

And we see our single friends doing their best to deal with the lack of romance in their lives. This meant going back on dating apps, talking to other people, thinking about how to merge dating and staying safe, working on themselves, or talking with their friends about it.

This also means that all the public display of perfect relationships affects them more than it would on a normal year. It does so because, unlike other years, they’re now finding themselves to be severely limited. They can’t go to singles parties, they can’t go on random dates with people they’ve chatted with for a week, or so, they can only sit there and watch.

And seeing everyone else posting their perfect, sweet, incredible relationship all over Social Media is harming their mental health more than usual. It brings up old feelings of inadequacy, of being unworthy, of being bad. These are some hard to cope with things, especially after a year of pandemic, constraints, anxiety, uncertainty, loss, grief, and burn-out. Because no one has enough mental energy to deal with all these things at once.

What should you keep in mind for this V-Day if you’re one of the single and struggling friends in your group?

No one has it all

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: not everything we see on Social Media is real. Most of the time we see just cut-outs of the reality. The highlights of the day, if you want.

This means that all those pretty flowers and cheesy gifts can be an expression of love, but can be as well an expression of fear and anxiety. Keep in mind that a lot of people have turned to buy stuff online as a distraction from their pandemic anxiety. Maybe you’ve done this yourself. There are always two sides to a story, regardless of what the story’s about.

The perfect relationship doesn’t exist in real life

The only place where relationships are perfect, with cute words, gifts,  and appreciation is the Internet. In real life, a relationship has also ups and downs, bad days, heated arguments, and partners asking themselves What was I thinking when I’ve picked you?

And these are the happy, ordinary cases. I am not going to talk about all the abusive, toxic relationships that are living hell in real life and all sugar and pink sequins online. Keep in mind that the number of partners reporting abuses from their significant others has severely increased during the pandemic, so most probably what you see is not what you get.

But none of these things are worth posting online, are they?

You’re not alone in this

This is not the problem of an individual, but of a big part of the population. And it’s okay, this year has wrecked us all, without any kind of discrimination. Our social interactions are being severely diminished, and we play by different rules. Even like that, it’s temporary, and we have to try our best to be patient and, you know, just hang in there.

You are worth it

Having to say this makes my heart sad, but I will do it anyway. You are worth it. Even if you’re single for a long time, or maybe your significant other and you have just split up, you’re worth it. You deserve kindness, respect, attention, care. You deserve to be supported, feeling understood, loved, important. appreciated. You deserve to have around people careful when it comes to your emotional needs, people who won’t belittle you for having a bad period or feeling low. And no one should ever have enough power to make you think otherwise about yourself.

You can still celebrate

Even if you’re single, you can still celebrate love. I mean, self-love is love, after all. So go ahead and treat yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to put on some make-up and nice clothes, take a loong bubble bath, cook something delicious, watch those cheesy movies you’ve always postponed, have a videogames night, or simply sleep in early. It’s your celebration, and you get to do it your way. What matters is reminding yourself that you can be single and still have a lovely time.

Stand your ground

In times like these it can be really tempting to go back to people we share memories with. Maybe our exes, maybe some close friends that proved themselves to be bad for us.Friendly advice: don’t. The reason is the fact that, usually, the mix between nostalgia and loneliness seems to erase the downsides of those relationships. You don’t need to bring back something harmful to your mental health and overall evolution. You know and deserve better. And you will get what you deserve when you’ll stop trying to open closed doors.

These are just a few things we could do to ease our passing through the month of love. Keep in mind that all the good love stories begin with people that have fallen in love with themselves in the first place, and find their way to it. It can be journaling, psychotherapy, Zoom calls with your best friends, whatever you feel might be helpful for you.

Don’t forget that some of the relationships you see might be actually tainted, despite all the pretty moments those involved choose to share. Or that everybody tries to do their best on days of celebration, like Valentine’s Day. And this implies buying pretty gifts, pretty clothes, setting up fancy dinners, and all the special things no one is making daily.

So take a deep breath, and look around. They are human, just like you are. So take advantage of this day and do more of what makes you happy. That will be more than good enough.

The agenda with empty pages

I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.

Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.

One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?

But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.

Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you might not be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.

It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.

People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.

There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.

There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.

And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.

Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.

The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.

Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.

If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.

There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.

And that’s a society no one wants to live in.