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Mental Health: a definition, not a definer

Tuesday 10-10-2017 - 09:34
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Written by Abigail Jessop, Chair of Bristol SU Wellbeing Network

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Take a moment to yourself, put your work to one side (because let’s face it, if you’ve clicked on this, it’s because you need a break for a minute), sit back and relax in a comfy chair (or if you can, move to a comfier one) and think for a minute about what mental health means to you.

On Friday 6th October, the University of Bristol and Bristol SU signed a Time to Change Pledge. A promise to end mental health discrimination across the university.

The news informs us that we are in the midst of a crisis. Recent statistics highlight the extent of this crisis, where 1 in 4 across Britain are suffering with a diagnosed mental health condition.

Unfortunately, the problem is expected to worsen, with depression predicted to be the leading cause of the global burden of disease by 2030.

Some people ask: ‘Where has this crisis come from?’ As though a ‘mental health crisis’ can suddenly appear out of thin air.

This crisis is a product of years of untold, uncovered suffering that before now could not be articulated. Only in recent years have we begun to discover the language we can use to describe feelings previously suppressed.

The Time to Change pledge calls for action. We need to unite and actively engage in dialogue around our mental health. With a greater understanding of the language, we can become truly intelligent to the emotional range of mental health each of us possess. With greater awareness, we can fight the feelings of isolation experienced by so many unable to speak out.


See below for a video of Bristol SU's Chief Executive, Sam Budd, talking about caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder as well as her own mental health.



Mental health is something we have, not something we are.

Someone with depression is not a depressed person all the time. Someone with anxiety does not feel anxious all the time. There are good days and bad days and we all have our own experiences which shape our lives. However, mental health is not who we are but what we need to take care of. We can label the conditions, not the people.

One of the brutalities of mental health is when we begin to forget our own self-worth. In those times, being who we truly are, or who we want to be, becomes that bit more difficult. We are so much more than any labels can ever begin to comprehend.

Johnny Benjamin, the guest speaker at the Time to Change event, spoke out about his experience with mental health, and one fear stood out to me over all the rest: his fear of being defined as a “mental health patient”. He held back from speaking out about his wellbeing and his struggle with mental health, because he feared that if he did, he would be labelled as someone unable to achieve his potential. He would be defined by his mental health condition.

But times are changing. With speakers like Johnny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, the way we define mental health and the way we allow ourselves to be defined by mental health is shifting. Yet for too many of us, despite the changing attitudes across Britain and the pledges being made, the fear of being defined by our mental health is still all too real.

We need to raise awareness that mental health is something we have. It is not all that we are.

We are shaped by our experiences, but we aren’t defined by them.


What to do today (and every day)

  • Ask a mate out for a chat and have a proper open catch up
  • Go for a walk in a green space (I personally love Royal Fort Gardens but also recently discovered Hampton House gardens)
  • Do something you love doing (this could be alone or in a group)
  • Eat well and have that 5 a day
  • Join the Bristol SU Wellbeing Network (and any other networks you would like to be a part of).




Related Tags :

time to change pledge, wellbeing network, awareness, mental health,

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