Modern life moves at a dizzying pace. You could be forgiven for thinking that success has everything to do with your accomplishments rather than who you are. 16,6 percent of respondents to a 2016 NHS survey reported experiencing a common mental health problem within a given week. 

Helmetatec Hello , 1969–71 by John Berry.

Helmetatec Hello, 1969–71 by John Berry.

When we focus more on what we do and less on who we are, the potential for such ‘issues’ to develop increases. In his 2015 memoir, “Reasons to Stay Alive,” Matt Haig argues that mental health is physical health, and that to separate it does human beings a disservice.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that one adult in eight receives mental health treatment, whilst as many as 75 percent of people may not have access to the support they need. The resources are there, but demand is seemingly outstripping supply. This places pressure upon those who are experiencing mental health difficulties to conform to neurotypical standards; the alternative – a silent (forced or self-inflicted) exile to a socially-constructed “outside.”

‘I have been certified as mildly insane!’ , 1992–3 by Gillian Wearing.

‘I have been certified as mildly insane!’, 1992–3 by Gillian Wearing.

The resources are there but accessing them is no mean feat. Doctors are under pressure to respond to individuals who are experiencing difficulties, but the options that they can offer are limited. Predominating attitudes within our society would indicate that it is necessary to reach a breaking point of sorts before reaching out for support. Research continues to demonstrate that the opposite is in fact true, that early intervention can prevent conditions from worsening and causing further distress to those who are experiencing them and their families.

If our success is in what we do, and less about who we are, then we should be able to meet the goals that are set out for us by society. This attitude is damaging and provides little opportunity for people to be authentic about who they are and what they are dealing with. Online mental health support communities can be extremely helpful, but these encourage a level of honesty that can be difficult to maintain in everyday life.

From the series Cosa Mentale (Zurich), 1972/2015 by Jonier Marin.

Increasing openness about mental health and the challenges thereof can only be a good thing, but it is important that those who are experiencing difficulties are encouraged to be open about these to whatever degree that they can, and that their openness is met with a healthy response.

A society in which individuals can be open about mental health is a society in which it is possible for everybody to take off their masks of various responsibilities and just be who they are. That is something worth striving for, regardless of the cost. People want to help, and people want to be seen, there must be a way of the two intersecting at a comfortable mid-point. The initiatives rolled out by Mind and Time to Change are a good starting point, but human beings need authentic connection, situations that are not contrived and developed for the purpose of talking about mental health. If we as a society can open up the conversation, then we can change the narrative around mental health to one of community, support, and recovery rather than isolation, struggle, and exclusion.

Words: Casey Bottono

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu