Right now we’re free to talk about mental health more honestly than ever before. This is great news since talking is one of the best ways of improving mental health, as well as sleeping regularly, eating well and exercising, and sometimes medication. Awareness campaigns have been amazingly successful and because of this people who are suffering feel less alone, less isolated, and more confident about asking for help. This is one of the reasons why reports of mental health problems have risen by so much, however, there are genuinely more people suffering from mental health problems than ever before. Could it be linked to the new way we talk about mental health? And how can we take action beyond awareness campaigns?
‘KMN’ (kill me now) is a phrase often used by students, usually because of homework stress: ‘I have an essay to complete before tomorrow at 9am, KMN’ rather than as a cry for help. Maybe you’ve heard someone ‘having a panic attack’ over losing their phone for a second. This kind of hyperbolic language is experiencing a huge rise due in part to awareness campaigns, but in some cases it allows use that doesn’t connect with it’s meaning. The worst care of this is ‘triggered’, which was a huge meme in 2017, people who actually had triggering experiences (such as a reminder of past trauma for PTSD sufferers, or a meltdown for people with autism) couldn’t use their own language to describe their experiences. This effectively shuts down important conversation, as people feel they won’t be taken seriously.
Some kinds of language misuse can make you feel more pessimistic than necessary. If the people you spend time with are always talking about anxiety and depression in an exaggerated or unconstructive way, it’s going to make all of you feel worse. You may start to see homework assignments you enjoyed as a source of depression, and you might feel depressed about uni life in general. In the worst cases, if people constantly overuse language of symptoms you struggle with it may also start to sink in that it’s normal to feel that way every day. This means avoiding measures to improve your mental health and missing warning signs of bigger problems.
When everyone’s using this kind of language it makes looking out for friends difficult too. You probably wouldn’t be fazed with a text from your friend maybe saying “I’ve got so much homework to do I want to kill myself” or something similar- they’re probably exaggerating, right? But what about “I can’t cope with the pressure of these deadlines, I’m going to kill myself.”. Missing warning signs that may be as obvious as that last text is a huge problem in relation to suicide attempts, or any serious mental health episodes, when we assume they’re joking or exaggerating. Miscommunication like this can cost lives.
While the amount of awareness of mental health problems is incredible (we’ve been really impressed with the ads targeting men around campus) the advice is repeated so many times it may start to feel empty. Especially when you’re suffering from a problem and are told again and again to go to yoga when it doesn’t feel like enough. It may seem like everyone is talking but no one is listening. This is why we need to change the conversation, from Awareness to Action. This means taking language around mental health seriously, following advice as a preventative measure, and actively having conversations about personal problems, mental health related or otherwise. And of course, visit the wellbeing centre at the first sign of trouble.
Text by Grainne Wrigley
Picture research by Anna Irina; featured image from Pinterest.