World Mental Health Day 2020 – Mental Health For All

One of the biggest days on the Mental Health calendar.

The theme this year is ‘Mental Health for All’ and this is what the World Federation for Mental Health said about that choice…


Psychosocial support and mental health national plans need to address the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on citizens.

It is therefore of great significance and importance that the theme for World Mental Health Day 2020 will be:

Mental Health for All
Greater Investment – Greater Access

Mental health is a human right – it’s time that mental health is available for all. Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for universal health coverage and is urgently required as the world grapples with the current health emergency.

We therefore need to make mental health a reality for all – for everyone, everywhere.


It’s not a bad message in principal. Everyone deserves to have access to good mental health care, especially when going through the trauma of a pandemic. That would be incredible. But how governments will cope with all of the pandemic related cases when they can’t even handle the current number, I have no idea. In the UK, for example, they’d have to actively stop defunding the NHS and start directing funds back to it and specifically to their mental health services. And the system itself would need a drastic overhaul: we need a system of professionals that can accurately identify symptoms, prescribe medication, treatment, or a therapist if necessary, provide resources such as suggested reading and contacts for local support groups, and schedule regular follow ups. Even the language around mental health is long overdue an update. That’s a massive undertaking but if they can do it, then they have my full support.

But back to World Mental Health Day. This slogan makes me so angry that I almost couldn’t write anything today. Mental healthcare for all, right? We have to have a global pandemic that affects the mental health of the entire world for mental health to truly rise up the list of priorities? So… what? All of us struggling with mental health problems before the pandemic weren’t worth the effort? That’s what the message sounds like to me.

I was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses at eighteen and Autism Spectrum Disorder at twenty, although I was obviously struggling long before we could put a name on what was happening. And that’s the simple version. The long version involves hundreds of hours of research and phone calls and appointments, tears and screaming and self harming, invalidated over and over and over again. Since receiving my diagnoses and getting support in various forms, when my physical and mental health have allowed me to, I’ve done everything in my power to raise awareness and support for those of us struggling with our mental health. I’ve donated money, taken part in fundraisers, volunteered for research projects, supported charities, attended conferences, and so on. I’ve created art about my experiences and dedicated the proceeds to charity.

I did not and do not expect to change the world alone with these actions but think about every single person who has been doing the same and more up until this point. The message being circulated today on World Mental Health Day with this slogan seems to invalidate all of that. To me, it feels like all of these organisations promoting this phrase are saying that we weren’t important enough before to dedicate serious help or resources to; that our mental health problems weren’t caused by a massive global trauma and therefore they aren’t as important; that there weren’t enough of us to make the effort worth it so they weren’t going to bother; “oh, but now look at how many people need help, that makes it worth doing.”

These organisations do a lot of great work and I’ve always had great respect for them but right now… this feels like a betrayal and a hard one to swallow. Maybe I’m the only one who feels like this, maybe I’m not, but this is my blog and my blog is where I come to talk about how I feel. So there you go.

More voices telling me that my experience isn’t important or valid doesn’t change anything though. I’ll keep working, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep helping in whatever way I can. Because this is bigger than all of the politics and bullshit that constantly get in the way of improving the lives of people who suffer from mental illness. I truly wish I had something more positive to say, on today of all days, but I don’t. I’m angry. And I’m sad. And I’m exhausted. Never have I felt so let down by the community that is supposed to support me and after all I’ve experienced, that’s really saying something.

So I Wrote A Thing For World Mental Health Day

(Trigger warning for self harm.)

Today is World Mental Health Day.

If I’m honest, I’m not really sure what to say. I’m in the middle of the worst depression I’ve ever experienced and I’m very aware that my perspective, my opinions, my hopes are distorted by that. If this was a video, I might just sit and cry. But this day is important so I’m trying to pull myself together and put something out into the world that is (hopefully) positive (and maybe helpful).

This year’s theme is the mental health of young people. When it comes to things like this, I’ve never felt comfortable talking about anyone’s experience but my own. So that’s what I’m going to do. I hope that’s okay with you guys.

My experience at secondary school was a very mixed one. I spent the first three years dealing with some complicated health problems but by the time I reached Years 10 and 11 (ages fifteen and sixteen for those of you who don’t know the education system in England), I felt really settled. I loved learning, particularly English, Maths, History, Psychology, and Philosophy (real shout out to my teachers in all of those subjects). I got real satisfaction from working hard and that was reflected in my grades. I came out of secondary school with not unimpressive grades, especially when you consider I missed most of the first three years. So I felt pretty good about going into Sixth Form (A Levels/ages seventeen and eighteen).

But that was when it all started to unravel. I really, really struggled. I’d gone from completing the work with ease to barely scraping by. I couldn’t understand it: I was trying so hard and it didn’t seem to make any difference. And I couldn’t see it at the time, but my anxiety was getting worse and worse and what I now know to be depression was creeping in. But I didn’t know it was happening so I just kept pushing forwards. I spoke to a couple of people about the high anxiety I was experiencing but each one told me that anxiety is normal and that was the end of the conversation.

It all came to a head when I failed an exam, something that had never happened before. I’d been told I was all set for an A* and I came out with a U. I was absolutely devastated. I know now that our worth as human beings has nothing to do with grades but I was eighteen years old: I had only ever been valued based on my grades. It’s no one person’s fault but that’s how the education system in this country works. It needs changing.

But back to this little story. I don’t remember much after I opened the envelope and saw that U but I ended up in one of the less used college toilets, self harming repeatedly with a broken paperclip. I don’t know how long I was there (long enough that the automatic lights went off and I was plunged into a very appropriate darkness) but at some point, my friends tracked me down and coaxed me out of the stall. I still remember seeing my reflection: my make up all down my face, my hands shaking, and the scratches barely hidden by my long sleeves. One friend took me to a nearby café, bought me a hot chocolate, and just talked to me. And eventually I told her what I’d done. Her kindness and gentleness was so healing, not for the whole problem but for that very difficult day. I will never forget it and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay it.

After that, I dropped out of that course and clawed my way out with two A Levels and an Extended Project, far less than I and everyone had expected of me. I went straight into a music course but had to drop out two days in because my anxiety was so bad that I just couldn’t cope. I spent a year grappling with the anxiety and depression, trying the first of many antidepressants (so many) and trying to retake some of the exams in the hope that I could improve my A Levels (I didn’t end up opening the results of those until after I finished my degree, three years later, but that’s another story). During that year, I tried desperately to get help from the NHS to no avail: my anxiety was so bad that talking to people I didn’t know was practically impossible and they refused to help me if I wouldn’t talk. Eventually we were forced to go private, something that I’m endlessly, endlessly grateful has been possible. And I only managed to get my diagnoses when my university said they weren’t able to help me if I didn’t have an official diagnosis.

It still upsets me to talk about. I asked and asked and asked for help but no one either seemed able or willing to help me. I would not be as twisted up now had that not been the case. The information and support was not available to me, it wasn’t available to my family, and it wasn’t available or deemed important enough (I’m not sure which is worse) to the medical professionals I saw. That has to change. It is not acceptable.

Now that I’ve told my story, I want to include some other important, relevant stuff.

The first thing is that I want to link you to Hannah Jane Parkinson’s recent article in The Guardian. She makes the very important distinction between mental health and mental illness. And this is where, I think, physical health and mental health are most comparable: your mental health is something you take care of (or don’t) everyday, by eating and sleeping well, exercising, talking through your emotions, and so on. Mental illnesses, similarly to physical illnesses, can be caused by not taking care of your mental health but there can also be genetic factors, environmental factors, and just hard stuff going on in your life.

WAYS TO HELP YOUR MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Talk – Talk through your feelings with someone you trust.
  • Keep a journal – This way you can air your thoughts and feelings in private.
  • Keep in contact with friends – It’s really easy to get busy and fall out of touch but spending time with people you love and feeling connected to other people is so important.
  • Exercise – This doesn’t mean every or any kind of exercise will help. On a personal level some types of exercise can potentially hurt your mental health. You just need to find the one that does help and then it will really help. I always recommend swimming because it’s non-weightbearing and therefore causes less strain on your body when you’re potentially already struggling with physical symptoms, like fatigue.
  • Eat well/drink sensibly – Everything we put into our bodies affects our minds.
  • Be mindful of your commitments – Yes, social interaction can be really helpful but if you’re taking on too much, it will take more from you than it gives you. And then you won’t be able to cope as well with whatever else is thrown at you.
  • Ask for help if you start to feel mentally and emotionally overwhelmed – Fortunately it’s starting to become easier to access support and counselling but even if it’s a struggle, it is a struggle worth going through.
  • Spend time with animals – It’s scientifically proven that being with animals is good for your health!

WAYS TO HELP YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS:

  • Work with a medical professional/therapist that respects and understands what you’re struggling with – Finding one can be the mission of a lifetime but having that presence in your life whose sole purpose is to help you through your struggles is incredible.
  • Medication – If you’re prescribed medication, take it diligently.
  • Try to keep track of your triggers – Knowing what they are doesn’t always prevent them from sending you into a complete spiral but even one spiral avoided is progress.
  • Create a support system – This isn’t something you can necessarily do without help but, over time and with the help of people who care about you, building a circle of trusted people who will support you through whatever it is you’re going through is so special and helpful.
  • Take time off if you need it – This is one I think we all struggle with. It’s a learning curve for a lot of us but it is important and can prevent small problems from becoming big problems.
  • Find a stress reliever – Whether it’s reading, or watching every episode of your favourite TV show, or doing something artsy like watercolouring, taking a break from all the stuff in your head is well worth doing.
  • Create a safe space for yourself – Living with a mental illness is exhausting and so having somewhere where you can just exist without thinking or masking is so important.

And of course, there is overlap between these two lists.

Where we go from here, I’m not sure. The information about mental health and mental illness is spreading and spreading and more and more people are speaking up. Now we need the right systems to support it: doctors, treatment, government officials who advocate for positive change. For now, that’s all I know. For now, I’m just trying to manage one day at a time.

(And a gentle reminder, my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ which I wrote about my experiences with my mental health is available on iTunes and Spotify and all those places and all proceeds go to Young Minds, a charity that supports young people in their mental health.)