Mental Health Awareness: You cannot change your brain

September is Suicide Prevention Month. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to 800,000 people, or one every 40 seconds, die by suicide, and it is the third leading cause of death in 15 – 19-year olds. Given these statistics, it’s very concerning that mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health; on average, countries spend just 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Given that almost 1 billion people live with a form of mental health disorder, there is a disconnect.

These statistics make an uncomfortable read; they are distressing and show how we, as a global society, have failed to prevent not only unnecessary deaths but also the pain and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of families, friends, and relatives around the world. Suicide doesn’t only affect the individual affected, but also those around them. Suicide can be seen by many as a selfish act, as an act of weakness. But is it really? Can we really imagine what is going through that person’s mind and how desperate they must have felt that the only way out for them was to take their own life?

As a depression sufferer myself, I know how scary it is to be tormented by your own mind; to know that whatever you do, regardless of where you go or how hard you try, you cannot escape it, and you will never be able to. If you are bullied or tormented by a person, you can always change your environment, whether it is a school, university, workplace, etc. … But you cannot change your brain!

Our societies today encourage us to be ourselves, to show who we are, to accept each other. We aim to build a culture that celebrates differences, that is more human and understanding. And yet, when you are different, you can still feel that your culture and your community don’t accept you. It’s lonely to feel outcast by your peers or to think that wherever you go, you just don’t fit anywhere. These feelings can be caused by many things – sexuality, race, culture, weight, personality, disability, mental and physical health, social status, religion.

The stigma and the shame around mental health are still so strong that many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their struggles. Should this make us ask ourselves the questions ‘Do we really accept others’ differences?’; ‘Do we approach people with an open mind?’; ‘Have we done enough or even anything at all to show people that it’s OK to be different?’; ‘Why do we need to put people in a box – after all, we come in all shapes and sizes?’

Many people with mental health issues feel that they aren’t understood; that others don’t know what it feels and looks like to feel tortured by your own mind. Well, let me tell you what this looks like! When you suffer from poor mental health, your mind can easily go into overdrive, and regardless of how much you try to stop it, you just aren’t able to. You think about everything, you are sensitive, both mentally and physically, to every single detail no matter how small it is, and you look at it at every angle, you think the worst about everything. You try and tell yourself that this is only in your head, and yet, it feels so, so real that you can’t stop thinking about it. You have to sit in your doctor’s office and hear the warning that the medication they give you will make you worse before it makes you better; that it can trigger suicidal thoughts and can cause some people to die by suicide because of the chemical reactions that happen in your brain.

At times like this, you need your friends and your family around more than ever, but the guilt for making them worry about you and that you aren’t able to just ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘get on with life’ is stronger. And this is the worst feeling in the world! You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, you are exhausted but can’t sleep because your mind is in overdrive, and you have thousands of thoughts rushing in and out of your head like cars in a busy motorway; you cry about every single thing; you don’t want to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything.

Imagine if you have gone for a run, but you are entirely out of control of your own body. You are out of breath, exhausted, you feel that you aren’t able to continue anymore, and yet, you keep running. Or if loud music plays around you and it is so loud and disturbing, but you can’t turn it off, it doesn’t matter how much you try.

In the four years I’ve suffered from depression, I’ve never been suicidal, even in my darkest days, but I have no doubt in my mind that if I had left things as they were and didn’t ask for help, I was heading down this path. In these dark days, when I sat on my own struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis, I made a promise myself that I will never, ever allow myself to get to a state where I can see no other way but to take my own life.

Suicide is not only a problem for the individual. It’s our problem too, because we are the ones who have the power to build and change a society; we have the ability to change lives and make them better or worse; we have the power to say NO to toxic cultures and outdated and discriminatory believes. So next time when your train is cancelled because of ‘a tragic accident on the tracks’, spare a thought for the person who was failed by all of us as a society, and who saw no other way out but to end their life, and ask yourself the question ‘What can I do to make this world more accepting and more tolerant of who people are?’

If we could be more understanding, tolerant and accepting of each other, imagine what a difference will might make.

Written by Elena Georgieva

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