To mark UK Disability History Month Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager Jennifer Hastings explores the months theme Disability, Health & Well Being. Jennifer explores self-care, mental health and access to support provisions.
Events to mark Disability History Month and explore this years theme further are taking place across King’s and you can find out about these here.
Mental health has had quite the PR treatment in recent years. From Love Island alumnus Dr. Alex George being appointed as Youth Mental Health Ambassador, to influencers talking about their mental wellbeing against a backdrop of candles and White Company bedding. Whilst I applaud the efforts to talk more about our mental health, these discussions tend to stay in the realm of the more “palatable” symptoms; I imagine swapping stories of intrusive thoughts or manic episodes is likely to grind the conversation to a halt.
It’s great that people are taking a more holistic view of health, and it’s true that we all have good and bad days. But living with a mental health condition (whether it has been diagnosed or not) is so much more than not feeling your best self. Mental health difficulties can be debilitating, and feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and desperation don’t simply dissolve away in a warm bath (however Instagram-ready the setting may be). The author and journalist, Bella Mackie, has written brilliantly about this, questioning whether our current focus on getting everyone talking about mental health has taken airtime away from those who are experiencing mental ill health.
Accessing support for mental health difficulties can be tough, not least because over one million people are on waiting lists. There’s also lots of reasons many people are reluctant to take that first step, such as booking a GP appointment or contacting a therapist. We may not prioritise doing so until the problem gets particularly bad, or maybe we’re scared to divulge such scary thoughts to another person. Perhaps we know that people experience support services differently, for example, Black people are more likely to be sectioned than White people. If you are struggling, Mind has some really comprehensive information on accessing support for the first time, including a section on racism within the mental health system. Staff at King’s can also access the Employee Assistance Programme and students can access the Counselling and Mental Health Support Service.
As well as increasing access to timely support, we must also remain vigilant against the “medicalisation” of injustice and oppression. I recently attended a lecture by Professor Camara Jones, who spoke about the social determinants of health. These are the things that can impact on the likelihood of us becoming unwell but that we, as individuals, cannot control (e.g. poverty). Over 2 million food parcels were provided by the Trussell Trust last year; is it any wonder people aren’t feeling great? We’re also increasingly being presented with the concept of “self-care” through a capitalist lens, as if all that stands between us and our sanity is expensive skin care or cashmere pyjamas.
This is not to say that self-care, whatever that looks like to you, is meaningless. Making connections with others, becoming absorbed in an activity that brings you joy and taking time to switch off are all key components of a happy life. The danger is when we use this as a plaster for holes in service provision and systemic injustice. So where do we go from here? Some of the above problems may seem insurmountable, however we all have a voice. You can use yours at the polling station, to sign petitions or become a Mind campaigner. Mental health difficulties can feel like the most individual of struggles however sometimes collective action is what’s needed to make a change.
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