Although the signs and symptoms of many health problems are something that you’d have to look up on the internet, realistically you know that if something is painful then it is generally not a good sign. Equally if you see somebody who is very pale, limping or keeled over in pain then asking if they are okay will normally produce a rather obvious “No”. Physical illnesses are health problems that most people aren’t afraid to talk about, so suggesting that they may need to go home from work and rest is seen as sympathising, acceptable and generally the right thing to do.
In every work place, school and even places such as pubs and clubs there are trained first aiders to deal with simple problems. Why is it that first aiders are trained to deal with simple physical health issues but never mental health issues? You’re probably all thinking that a mental health problem isn’t a first aid matter. Let me say two words…Panic Attacks. I have had panic attacks on public transport before and all I’ve been met with is strange looks that can be interpreted as nothing other than “She’s crazy”. This isn’t even a rare occurrence; one in ten people have experienced a panic attack. That is more common than Asthma but most people can tell if somebody is having an Asthma attack.
Physical symptoms are often very easy to spot yet most people can’t even see them for mental health problems! A simple example is Insomnia, which isn’t a mental health problem itself but is a symptom of many. Lack of energy, dark circles under eyes, bags under eyes, distant seeming. We can all tell when somebody hasn’t had much sleep but not many people would ever suspect it was down to a mental health problem and why should they? Insomnia is very common, especially in students and people working in high stress jobs.
Depression, this one is far easier to spot in some people than you may think. Speaking or moving slowly, dramatic weight change and lack of energy are all physical symptoms. Many of the behavioural symptoms are even more obvious; suddenly not achieving what they used to achieve, withdrawal from social situations or being abnormally quiet.
Personally I find that the most frustrating aspect of mental health stigma is how unsympathetic most people are towards these kinds of symptoms. Most would be put down to laziness or going to bed too late. It is acceptable to call in sick to work with a cold, which normally you can work through; yet calling in because you’re feeling depressed having had a history of depression is not acceptable. Not in the slightest. (Mind you, mental health and work places is something I could go on about for some time so I’ll leave that one there.)
The lack of education surrounding mental health continues to prevent people from getting help as early as possible. I once had an argument on twitter with somebody because I dared to suggest that mental health education should be taught in schools the same way drug, alcohol or sex education is. Heaven forbid that young people should have the thought of mental health problems inflicted on their minds; there was no thought to the fact that some of them were already suffering from them.
Today’s society is a lot better at talking about and learning about mental health problems than it was 50 years ago but we have got such a long way to go. When the general public can’t even list a physical symptom of depression then we have a problem, a big problem. When first aiders aren’t taught about simple mental health issues we have a problem. But most importantly when the majority of the public doesn’t even want to learn about these problems, we have an even bigger issue.