Mental health - Stop saying the S Word.

Whatever you do, absolutely do not think of a white elephant.

I often hear this example referred to by psychologists on how the brain fails to process negatives,  and other phrases like “fire together, wire together” in reference to neural communication and the strengthening of what we pay attention to. So with these ideas being promoted I often find myself wondering why there are so many campaigns trying to remove the stigma from mental health. 

Every time I see a campaign saying “remove the stigma from mental health” it seems that in doing so a stigma has just been either assigned to or reinforced, which is ironically the opposite of what the aim is. Whilst I have no doubt in the intentions of these campaigns being positive, I wonder what the end goal is? 

I believe the aim is to get people to talk about mental health and promote a positive culture in which individuals feel free to discuss how they could improve their current state of mind. More specifically the goal isn’t to remove a stigma, it’s to replace it. So why not just start with that, In a world that there is no stigma, what then?

If I knew nothing about mental health and I saw a poster saying “remove the stigma around mental health” my questions would likely be; "What is the stigma and why is it there?"  a diversion from the core message of promoting mental health. A preferred poster, if the goal is to promote positive mental health, may read: 

“Ways to promote your mental health” or “Find out how I improved my mental health in just 8 weeks” which seems to work wonders in the fitness industry. 

Again, I must stress that I am a huge advocate of improving mental health and have for the last 4 years made a point of not discussing the S word as I refuse to acknowledge that there is one. I am more interested in actually taking action and making a difference, not concerning myself with whether or not there is or isn’t a s.t.i.g.m.a. Having worked in the fitness industry for a number of years and now focussing on performance psychology I have noticed the two have one startling difference, success stories in the fitness industry are shared. Before and after pictures are proudly displayed on billboards and magazines whilst the mental health equivalent is kept confidential and private.

If you were to sell tickets for a rollercoaster, you wouldn’t promote it with those who had near death experiences, you would promote it with success stories, those who came out the other side and are now telling everyone how great they feel. 

This is one change I’d like to see more of, those with success stories proudly promoting their new found health, their secrets or even fad diet equivalents. I have seen a rise is both awareness and acceptance of writing gratitude diaries. I often ask those around the dinner table what they are grateful for? 

This is where efforts should be directed. Daily interactions to promote positive communication, create a culture in which talking about mental health is not only normal but desired by everyone and promoted by inspirational athletes, actors, businessmen and musicians in order to feel great. So in reference to mental health, more people can sincerely say: What stigma? There isn’t one.