The off button

An entire week is dedicated to raising the awareness of mental health. I can’t help but feel that this highlights not only how many people are affected by mental health issues, but also how much more work is needed to be done in order to break down the stigma surrounding them. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has improved since revelers paid to visit asylums and gawk at people who were suffering from various mental illnesses. But isn’t mocking such conditions in the name of ‘entertainment’ for a few likes or views the same thing? If you take into account the fact that teenagers now have the same anxiety levels as psychiatric patients in the 1950s aren’t we the ones who would have been in the asylum? Are we the ones who would have been laughed at? Are we still?

My mind is uncontrollable. It is constantly abuzz and whizzing at 100mph that if I think about it too much I fear I may get motion sickness. When I’m trying to relax and switch off I get myself worked up because I think about how much I need to switch off but how I can’t switch off because I’m thinking about switching off too much thus never actually enabling me to switch off. It makes me dizzy just writing that sentence let alone actually living the reality of it all. If only someone could invent an off button which I could just switch and have at least a few minutes peace, a break from myself if you will.

Alongside the never ending internal podcast, there are also extraneous variables. One in particular springs to mind. The virtual conversations, the updates, the instant access to other peoples’ lives, the opinions that everyone is entitled to - even though they may cut deep, the desensitization to whose eyes are reading the words that are full of spite, the world at our fingertips - in the form of a touchscreen.

There are both positives and negatives to the technology available to those of us who are fortunate enough to access it. It allows us to stay connected whilst simultaneously detaching us from the sensitivity of humanity. It can have toxic effects - especially when in a bad place. Seeing the picture perfect lives projected on social media can lead to negative comparisons. Belittling and questioning ourselves based on curated content in the form of pixels behind a glass screen. Emoji’s have a billion and one interpretations, and if you’re anything like me you tend to think of the most destructive, even if someone sends an innocent smile I could interpret that as being a subliminal message for their distain towards me. A picture tells a thousand words – so does an emoji. Don’t even get me started on what a message without an emoji or being left on read or how people word themselves via instant messages can be interpreted as. There is no winning. It is all just too much overthinking for my poor brain to process on top of my every day-to-day struggles. The lack of face to face communication (in the form of body language and tone of voice) means that, in my experience, the gap is just filled with paranoia and overthinking which then festers and rots my self-esteem.

The media has a habit of depicting those with mental illnesses as being violent, ‘the black sheep' (I literally just heard that on TV as I was typing) or the ones that always seem to be on the receiving end of ‘locker room banter’- kind of like in the asylum huh? It stereotypes the complexity of mental health; by fueling such stereotypes, the consequences can be devastating. People may feel scared about talking about their mental health for fear of being typecast as one of the media depictions. Which in turn means they don't speak up. An individual who feels lonely and trapped in the inescapable prison of their mind. They feel alone even though 1 in 6 of us are in the same boat as them but 1 in 6 aren’t portrayed in the media, at least not as being ‘normal'- whatever that may be.

It didn’t hit me until recently. But we can turn it off. The notifications, the read receipts, the comments, the television shows and even the device itself. Unlike my mind, they have an off button. Maybe we should use it sometime. Instead of looking at filtered images of doctored landscapes maybe should take a few moments to be present and see the world in all its beauty through our own eyes. Focus on the real people behind the real stories. The people behind the screens and the online personas. The everyday Jane and John Does. The 1 in 6.

I have no doubt that this week is going to do a lot of good in the field of mental health. Speaking up and changing perceptions is how the stigma will end. There is a vast amount of online materials available from mental health charities (one of the many positives of technology) all of which can be incredibly educational. However, one of the most powerful things you can do is quite simple really. Talk. Give a hug to a friend who’s in a bad place. If you don’t understand what they are going through – ask them. We can become so immersed in external factors, like our phones, that sometimes going back to basics can help ease our buzzing minds. A break from the information overload. Time to ourselves. Time to heal.

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