opinion

'In 2021, we're ready to ask R U OK? But we're still not ready for the answer.'

September 6 marked the beginning of Body image and Eating Disorder awareness week, September 9 - today - marks R U OK? Day and, tomorrow, September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

This week, more than ever we shed light and awareness on mental health and mental illness. 

Although I think it's important to add, there is mental health and then there is mental illness. There is a difference.

Watch: 5 Lifestyle hacks to help with your anxiety. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia

The ramifications of this pandemic have thrown discussions and conversations surrounding mental health and psychological wellbeing into the spotlight more than ever. 

It's been a welcome change, and good to hear these conversations normalised. 

Perhaps it's taken a pandemic to encourage, teach and allow us to speak comfortably about something that should have always been spoken about? 

Or are these discussions and the acknowledgement of the importance of mental health and wellbeing normalised only in the context of COVID-19? Will this continue on as we slowly return to 'normal', the chaos that is everyday life?

I am unsure if this is an observation of my generation, or whether this is representative of a societal change at large.  

As this pandemic has continued, we have found ourselves frequently using the words 'mental health' and feeling safe to do so. 

The words are no longer taboo. 

Yet when we swap the word 'health' with the word 'illness' that bravery dwindles and the tension and discomfort sets in. These conversations remain difficult.

We talk about yoga, self care, mindfulness and mental health strategies. We love to hear and often feel comfortable to share a 'recovery story'. As long as things have 'worked out'.

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We love stories of hope and triumph after the struggle. We do not like to talk about the struggle as it's happening. 

That's just not Instagram-worthy. 

More often than not, we are uncomfortable engaging in conversations regarding suicidal thoughts, manic episodes, panic attacks, anxiety that leaves us paralysed, and using the words 'mental illness'.  

We are talking about mental health, yet we continue to struggle to talk about mental illness, and that’s the problem. 

In 2019, I was diagnosed with a mental illness, which felt sudden, as if it developed over night. 

And as the common story goes, I never thought it would happen to me. 

To this day, I could count on one hand the number of times I've been able to say the words, and at times, even believe they apply to me.

Anorexia Nervosa. 

I also have frequent drop ins from its sidekicks, anxiety and depression. As my perception and knowledge surrounding mental illness has increased over the years, I myself struggle to have these conversations. 

Continuing to refer to mental illness as 'It' or 'The Issue.' Why can't I call it for what it is? A harsh, ugly word, for a harsh, ugly illness. 

I am guilty of posting an Instagram spiel on achieving what I believed to be a successful and linear recovery. 

I felt comfortable to share my experience, because, well, I thought I was okay, that it was all in the past. 

Then, months down the track, I found myself sitting in a hospital bed, wondering how I got there. 

I realised the reality of what it takes to recover from mental illness. 

Yes, mental health is slowly becoming de-stigmatised. 

We are having the conversations more than ever. But are we beginning to glamorise mental health and mental illness? Or over simplify the remedy to achieving good mental health down to green juices, yoga, affirmations and meditation? And only discuss and share once we have reached an outcome we feel is socially acceptable?

For those who have lost someone to mental illness, have experienced mental illness, or know someone who has, you know it is dark and complex. 

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When we are brave enough to share our experiences, it's human nature to highlight the positive outcomes. A touch of struggle sure, but a big emphasis on the happy ending and what we've learned.

Shared experiences and stories online play an important role in reducing stigma, instilling hope and enabling connection, however more often than not the stories are filtered.

The reality of experiencing and recovering from a mental illness is in fact, far from something that might be shared on Instagram.

But taking the risk of being entirely transparent about how you're feeling might allow someone the opportunity to share, connect and confide about something they may have never. 

It could allow the person next to you, the person online, a friend, a family member a colleague to say 'me too' for the first time, even if it's just to themselves. 

It’s the raw and uncomfortable conversations that matter most, not the filtered Instagram versions.

Will these continue once this pandemic slowly becomes a memory? 

Feature Image: Getty.

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