To have the words positive and mental health in the same sentence is seemingly contradictory, however I believe that we need to have a more hopeful tone when raising awareness about mental illnesses. It’s really fantastic that mental health is now so widely spoken about, in both secular and religious spheres, but there is still more to be done.
As an upcoming fresher at university I signed up to the Guardian’s student service because they publish quality articles written by students on various topical issues; student debt, exam stress, and, of course, experiences from students who suffer from mental illness. I was disheartened about how negative most of the newsletters are. The message sent out appears to be that life with a mental illness is absolutely rubbish, and that university is going to be a special kind of torture. I do not intend to demean the students who wrote such articles, their negative experiences are valid and should be listened to. Of course, writing about the negative sides of our illness is vital for raising awareness, but wouldn’t it be nice if there could be some positive articles encouraging us to make the most of our studies, despite the struggles we face?
When a young person is diagnosed with depression, OCD, an eating disorder, or any other kind of illness, we need to encourage them that this is not the end of their life. Yes, sharing information about symptoms and struggles is vital, but so is sharing our experiences of recovery and treatment. I could write a long post about how hellish life could be before treatment, but that is no fun. It’s much more gratifying to write about how helpful the staff at CAMHS are, how taking sertraline has literally been life changing, and how I’m now living a relatively happy life that I never thought I’d be able to do. That’s not to say I don’t have bad days, but even the bad days are nowhere near as bad as they used to be.
I recently had a really pleasant meeting with the Needs Assessment team from Queen’s University, who told me all about the different levels of support I would be able to receive as a student. Knowing that so much help is available certainly makes the scary prospect of going to a new environment easier to deal with.
In the religious sphere, more and more people in positions of leadership are coming to terms with the reality of mental illness and are applying the hope given to us through Christ to those suffering. I am not claiming that you can pray away depression, the same way you cannot pray away cancer unless you accept medical help! However, being Christian encouraged me through my treatment, and even when I was at my very lowest and wanted sincerely to die, the knowledge that God had a plan for me was a comfort even though I was unable to feel God on an emotional level. I really recommend a short, 5 minute long video produced by the Mind and Soul Foundation called A Theology of Mental Health.
The message I wish people to take away from this post is that yes, mental illness is horrible, but if you have the courage to speak out life will get better. There is hope.