I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.

No Stigma For Halloween, Please

When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for tonight rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. Of course, I have some treats ready in case I have some little visitors this evening, but this will be my 9th Halloween at my current address and I’ve yet to see any trick or treaters!

As retailers fall over themselves to make money from Halloween the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. I recently reblogged a post I wrote three years ago about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale. But, as I mentioned in a more recent post on the stigmatisation of mental health issues, you could still find such costumes for sale this year among the specialist fancy dress retailers. The two I found, with very little effort, were Partypackage Ltd and Wonderlandparty, but no doubt there are others. This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty, in my eyes.

I have no problem with anyone wanting to celebrate Halloween, though I imagine most outside the US would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is they are celebrating. But as these little posters from the admirable Time To Change organisation remind us, these celebrations have absolutely nothing to do with mocking mental illness.

 

So please, by all means enjoy any celebrations you may be having this evening, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.

Happy Halloween!