I’m not sure how I feel about awareness weeks. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this October, and on one hand I think that’s fantastic – because maintaining mental health is so fundamental to our overall wellbeing, because it is still a poorly understood issue, because it is grossly underfunded and sidelined, because New Zealand has the highest youth suicide statistics in the developed world, because the first time 14 year old me had a bout of anxiety/depression I thought that I was going insane, because mental illness bleeds into every aspect of a person’s life. On the other hand, I have to wonder whether all the hype over the month just gives unspoken permission to dismiss these discussions for the other 51 weeks of the year? Not necessarily permission even, but a false sense that progress has been made in tackling the stigma surrounding mental illness and all that relates to it. Call me pessimistic, but I think so much more can be done. Sure, governmental policy is a part of it, but even on a community basis we can do better at looking out for and after each other.
The same could be said for other awareness initiatives: Pride month, Earth hour, Autism and Cystic Fibrosis awareness weeks, NZSL, Maori and Samoan language weeks… the list goes on. What happens after? People seem to just go back to their usual routines and it’s kind of missing the point. You can’t summarise a culture or a language or a disability or movement in X amount of days with slick graphic design and advertising. At the end of it, is the goal of awareness even reached? How do you measure how aware a population is of something? Following from that, what does it matter how aware they are if they are apathetic to the cause/message? It’s hard because there’s so much to care about in this world and in this short life I find myself living in. There is so much to do, and there is so much to fight for. Just to clarify, I include myself in this – I’m absolutely guilty of standing for something, an issue that I think needs addressing – and then losing momentum or drive to maintain my activism. So, these awareness weeks are a great starting point, in my opinion…but how can the learning and engaging through the week/month be applied and incorporated into peoples’ lives long-term? How do you get people to self-care or compost or use te reo or seek to understand mental illness and include those with autism for more than just a week? These are the unanswerable questions…at least in my head…at least right now. But they are well worth pondering…
Also, If you’re having a bad time or you’re considering hurting yourself you should most definitely watch this. And please be kind to yourself, though I know how hard it can be.
Love and hugs to the joys of internet