So what now?
Is everything we’ve done going to get lost in the background noise of our everyday lives? Or are we going to continue the work that’s been started?
These are questions we must ask
Most of us love awareness weeks. We love jumping on a trending topic, throwing our two cents and putting our voice into the mix. Maybe we even love helping and caring for others around the theme of the week. We can have so many conversations, get so many views and engagement from what we write.
But that’s just for a week. And we have to remember there are 51 other weeks in the year too.
Because mental health isn’t that kind, it doesn’t just hang out with us for a week. It’s a permanent resident. The guest that never leaves.
But after this week, hashtags stop trending. Conversations cease, and we all go back to normal until the next mental health awareness event comes round again.
But this isn’t how it’s supposed to be
The week is designated as the starting point. Bu t the last day isn’t the endpoint.
It’s almost like we give these weeks a use-by date, and after that awareness has ‘gone off’ – it’s no good for talking about any more.
This is understandable. Businesses and brands talk about trending topics to increase their visibility. There’s limited benefit to them talking about these issues when it’s not in the designated time period.
But what about the rest of us?
Often these weeks offer us a tantalising glimpse of what it could be. We can start having conversations. We can say we’re not okay. In the space of the week, this is absolutely fine. It’s encouraged. It gives us hope.
But then it ends. Conversations stop. The week disappears. It almost leaves us questioning – did it happen at all?
This leaves us in an uncomfortable place. We’ve been told it’s okay to have these conversations. We’ve been told we need to speak up about what we feel. We’ve been told to talk.
But there isn’t the space to do it anymore. We don’t feel able to start those conversations again. No one asks the questions anymore.
So things just revert back to how they are.
We’re fed these glimmers of hope. We’re shown what it could be like – and then as the weeks end, that dream has gone too. No longer can we see the friendly, inviting space that had been opened up to us. No longer can we see that people want us to talk. The visibility has gone. We stop.
It’s up to us – all of us – to change that
From large companies to charities and us as individuals we need to do more to sustain mental health in the foreground. We need to let people know we’re here for them all throughout the year.
We need to make space to talk
We’re doing better. There’s a lot more awareness on social media about how it’s okay not to be okay and when someone asks you, “are you okay”, an honest answer is allowed. But are we getting better at starting these conversations? If I’m asked, I will normally say if I’m having a bad day if it’s with people I know. Otherwise, I won’t initiate that conversation, instead passing off that I’m fine.
Maybe that’s the problem. Instead of actively starting conversations and creating the change, we’re passive. We let others start the conversations – it’s more comfortable for us.
I’m the same. Go back through my latest blog posts. I’ve continued conversations about student mental health, eating disorders and body image on awareness days. I’ve continued conversations that others have started.
But what about the conversations we don’t start?
We don’t have awareness days for everything. And simply having more awareness days isn’t going to fix the problem. Sure, we’ll be talking about a specific mental health issue for a week. But then what? We’re back to square one.
But we’ve got to move forward. We know work needs to be done. But how exactly we do this remains a mystery.
I could go on here about how businesses using #MHAW should care about mental health for the whole year and not just for the hashtags. I could moan about large organisations that have influence over our daily lives incorporating mental health into that. But I’ll spare you.
Because most of us reading this won’t have our own businesses. We’re just individuals.
But we still have a voice. No matter how small it might be. And we need to use it.
Because mental health isn’t going to go away. We can continue the mental health conversations throughout the year. Nothing’s stopping us from continuing to use the hashtags, continuing to care, continuing to be the ones to lead the conversations.
Organisations and others may use the hashtags and walk away. But we can choose. We can keep talking.
And that doesn’t have to be on blogs or social media as so many of you have done last week. These can be in our face-to-face conversations, our real-life interaction that everyone can be a part of.
And that’s something we can all do.
So let’s get out there and start those conversations. Not at the next mental health awareness date. Not in an empty promise of doing it at some point in the future. Let’s have those conversations today.
But let’s do more than that. Let it be made know to others that they can come to us at any time to have those conversations. Let’s start talking about our own mental health and helping others outside the confines of awareness weeks.
Let’s be there for people when they need us.