Breaking the silence on mental health

mental health awareness week

This week its Mental Health Awareness Week and what a great opportunity for people to speak out, share their experiences, ask for help. And break the silence that so many people suffer in.

I speak from experience. I suffered in silence too. And for too long. Behind closed doors  – literally  – I self-harmed to try and relieve the depression I was suffering as I struggled to overcome injuries that I thought would end my career. My body was constantly letting me down: and then my mind did as well. Incredibly this was just a year before my dream came true and I achieved my double Olympic gold in Athens in 2004.

Looking back, I wonder why I kept my feelings secret for so long. Even after I came through the worst, I didn’t let on to people outside of my immediate family. Truth is, the stigma attached to mental health 12 years ago was a massive barrier for me. So I kept quiet: held it in and hid my mental health problems.

Fast forward to today and people are talking more openly about mental health issues. But there’s still a LONG way to go before people talk about mental health as openly as they do about heart disease or cancer. The bravery of high profile people, most recently Prince Harry, speaking openly about their challenges go a long way to helping make mental health more real and acceptable. And it IS real and IS acceptable. It’s an illness like any physical one. Just because you can’t see it or touch it doesn’t make it any less impactful if you suffer from it.

We need to smash the stigma and encourage people to talk about their feelings: whether that’s depression, feeling of isolation, overwhelming sadness, a desire to self-harm or an already established pattern. Mental health takes many forms and manifests in many ways. And make no mistake, it’s a potential killer. People die from mental health problems — usually by taking their own life.

This is tragic – especially nowadays as we know so much more how to treat it. People need to know they will be taken seriously, treated with respect, given support and help. The work of charities and support groups is invaluable: which is why I chose the charity MIND as one of the beneficiaries of money I raised by running the London Marathon last year.

More and more people, including children, are going through personal turmoil, many still in silence for fear of the stigma associated with mental health. We must break the silence and shed that stigma once and for all. Starting now.