Poor mental health affects nearly everyone at some point in their life, and it doesn’t discriminate. There are various trigger points that can influence a person’s mental health state, such as work stress, relationship breakdowns and money worries, to name but a few. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, has accelerated this problem even further. According to statistics, 1 in 6 people in the past week will have experienced a common mental health problem.
Poor mental health, it seems, is a very common phenomenon – and yet so many people find it hard to talk about and disclose their mental health status to others, including work colleagues and even their families. This article will explore some of the reasons why mental health remains a taboo subject.
Formally diagnosed mental health conditions are classed as a hidden disability because the symptoms are not immediately obvious to the outside world. Many people with depression and anxiety learn to camouflage and hide the behaviours that might inform people of their true state. The bubbly girl at work, for example, may just be hiding her eating disorder.
Perception of weakness
A common reason why mental health can be a taboo subject is a fear of appearing weak and vulnerable in front of others. Although this can be seen in both sexes, it is especially apparent among men – as they are less likely to talk about their mental health to their GP. One of the reasons cited for this is that men feel pressured to live up to a stereotype of strong masculinity and that mental ill-health is therefore seen as a weakness that will be used to discriminate against them.
It’s common for men’s testosterone levels to decline by 1% every year from the age of 40, and this can also contribute to a range of mental health issues. Experiencing low testosterone and its associated symptoms can be a taboo subject in itself, and this can help to create a vicious cycle of worsening mental health issues that men never talk about.
But the tide is turning in Western countries, as more and more celebrities come forward and acknowledge that their stage persona is not all they are. They too have anxiety and periods of low mood. Stephen Fry became president of the mental health charity Mind in 2011, after publicly disclosing his ongoing battle with depression. To take a few more examples among many, Leonardo DiCaprio has revealed he has obsessive-compulsive disorder; Chrissy Teigen has suffered from postpartum depression, and Demi Lovato has been very open about her bipolar disorder diagnosis. As more celebrities become open and transparent about the difficulties they have, it slowly becomes less of a taboo in general society.
Although mental health is still something of a taboo subject for many people, more and more progress is being made. Mental health is in the public consciousness more than ever before, and compared to even 10 years ago there have been huge improvements in opening up the topic. This is partly thanks to celebrity influencers and public health campaigns encouraging people to talk. There are also significantly more services available to support people in need and to prevent further decline. As more male-focused mental health charities work with men to tackle stigma, the more we will see the impact amongst men. The internet has also widened participation even further through virtual sessions of counselling and coaching – which is more important than ever before due to COVID-19.
Anne Williams is the media consultant for Williams Media Consultancy.
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