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Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

Mental Health is NOT mental illness

Break the Stigma

What do you think of when you hear the words Mental Health?

For many people, the words depression, anxiety and suicide come to mind. This is not what mental health is. Yet, most people think about mental illness when we talk about mental health.

I believe that this is, in part, why there is still so much stigma, why so many people struggle to open up and why so many people still think there has to be something wrong to engage in some kind of talking therapy. I want to break that stigma.

Before we get into the actual definition, let’s be very clear – Mental Health is NOT mental illness. 

Personally, I hate the term ‘mental illness’ as it has so many negative connotations and associations attached to it. I prefer to think of mental health challenges.

And truthfully, in my experience, labelling people as having a disorder or illness is rarely helpful.

So, what is mental health?

As defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is  “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community

You’ll notice here that there is no mention of illness and in fact, there are many factors that contribute to positive mental health. These include our environment, work/life balance, sleep, nutrition, physical activity, downtime, emotional intelligence, hormones, genes, mindset, beliefs, social support and so much more.

We all have mental health

All of us have a brain, mind and body and all of us are on a continuum. At one end we see people flourishing and thriving and the other end, we see illness. All of us will move up and down that continuum throughout our lives and none of us are immune to struggle. Essentially, at the heart of many mental health challenges or stress related issues is a dysregulation of our autonomic nervous system.

This is particularly important to be aware of schools as children and young people are going through different stages of neural development. It is those younger years that mould and shape a person’s view and perception of stress and mental health as well as how they learn to respond to stress and promote positive mental health.

An Educators role is to model healthy behaviour and instill valuable life skills that will enable a young person to go and flourish in life.

The good news is, that we can all do things every day to help maintain balance – neurologically, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. As I always say, everything is connected.

It’s the small day to day habits that can really make a difference in us promoting positive mental health. 

It’s also important to say here, that it’s not possible to be positive all the time. Today’s ‘toxic positivity’ culture is also quite damaging in that the messaging is that people ‘should’ be able to be happy and positive all the time. What that can do is leave someone feeling like they are failing and not ‘good enough’.

Telling people to ‘just be grateful’ or ‘just think positive’ really isn’t helpful. In fact, what this often does is isolate people even more and leave them feeling unseen, unsupported and like there is something wrong with them. Equally, telling someone to ‘get over it’, ‘just deal with it’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ is also unhelpful. As with everything, finding a balance is key. We want to encourage young people (and staff) to be able to explore and express emotions, to be open to seeing different perspectives and to learn from challenges in a safe and supported way.

Reach out

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is loneliness. Feeling alone, especially if you are struggling, can feel devastating. So let’s encourage one another, let’s support one another and be compassionate with one another. 

If you are struggling at the moment, please know you are not alone. If you don’t have someone you feel able to talk to, there are many fantastic organisations detailed below:

  • Samaritans – Free Helpline Support. Tel: 116 123 – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
  • Mind Infoline – Confidential mental health information. Tel: 0300 123 3393 – 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday.
  • Saneline – National mental health helpline. Tel: 0300 304 7000 – 6pm – 11pm.
  • Anxiety UK – Helpline.  Tel: 08444 775 774 – 9.30am – 5.30pm Monday to Friday.
  • No Panic – Helpline. Tel: 0844 967 4848 – 10am – 10pm, 365 days a year
  • OCD UK – Advice line. Tel: 0845 120 3778 –  9am–5pm Monday to Friday (or email [email protected]).


If you are looking for training on mental health for your staff, students and school, book in for a free 30 minute, no obligation chat here.

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