Anxiety and depression diagnosis are increasingly familiar in the UK, so much so the diagnosis has become normalized and some are even referring to it as a fashion trend; mental health is not fashion, it is incredibly challenging and life debilitating and I applaud anyone who has found the courage to share their experience in the hope that it will help them and others recover. As mental health is on the up rise, so is suicide; new figures from the data of the Office of National statistics reveals that suicide in the UK has hit a 16 year high after surging in the past year following half a decade of decline; this includes an increase of 83% of females aged 10 to 24 years and an increase of 25% amongst boys of the same age. It is unclear as to why poor mental health and suicide rates have increased but professionals suggest a number of factors including relationship break downs, bereavement, concerns about body image, academic pressure, redundancy and bullying to name a few. Challenges that I’m sure most of us have experienced in our lives but may have overcome with early intervention work, supportive family and friends or simply because life thus far, has acquired us with coping mechanisms and a resilience that others do not have.
The general consensus is that poor mental health if not caused by, certainly results in lack of care for oneself a.k.a lack of self-love. I suggest that the factors recognized to have caused poor mental health are lack of self-love because if you loved yourself you would know that these circumstances do not define your true essence, and therefore you would trust your ability to overcome these challenges; you would not allow the circumstance to belittle you; and most importantly you would forgive yourself.
When we are born we are pure love however society quickly molds us into what it wants us to be; up to the age of 8-years old our brains are like a sponge, we absorb everything we see, feel and hear and this becomes who and what we identify with; if my father shouts at me every time I speak, I learn that I am not to speak and therefore I will become timid, quiet and I will have low self-esteem. As I grow into adulthood I may lash out and shout when I am frustrated as my father did; I may have trust issues and therefore relationship failures and due to my low self-esteem (lack of self-love) it is unlikely I will have aspirations. As a result of all of this, it is highly likely that I will have poor mental health. We can take responsibility and we can change this at any given moment through personal development but only when we recognize that this behavior is negative, is of no service to our life and is not who we are! In order to recognize this, we need to have at least a little self-love because if we don’t, we will not believe we are worthy of feeling or doing better.
Many people who are brought up in loving homes develop mental health difficulties and this is a contribution of their external environment. We are constantly told that we are not pretty enough, thin enough, curvy enough, clever enough, wealthy enough and so on; we are constantly made to feel that we are lacking. Advertising industries know very well that in order to sell things they need to convince us that we are not good enough and that this product will add something to how we see ourselves or are seen by others. Of course it doesn’t enhance our sense of self or it may seem to for a short time but lack always creeps back in. Most of what we want isn’t even what we really want, it is what society is telling us we should want; most of us don’t even know who we are because we are so conditioned by society. Strip yourself of your job status, parent status, relationship status, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, materialisms, financial status etc; if you were to lose it all, who are you? These are all societal conditions.
So begs the question, how can we love ourselves when we don’t even know who we are? How can we really love anyone else when we can’t love ourselves?
The office of national statistics recently revealed that 42% of marriages in the UK end in divorce, the most common reason being unreasonable behavior, that is our spouse is not behaving the way we want them to. We have attached a condition (an expectation) to the relationship that we have been conditioned to believe is right or wrong and when our spouse fails to meet this condition or no longer meets the condition, the relationship fails. We put the same conditions on ourselves, our love of self. After my step-fathers passing, I went through a period of poor mental health and I used to cry when I looked in the mirror; I thought I was not societies condition of beautiful, I felt a failure. One day I wondered how I would feel if my sister degraded herself the way I did, it broke my heart to think she could feel that way about herself; then I thought about my partner and how I would feel if he spoke to himself the way I spoke to myself, again it broke me. I thought about what I would do if someone in the street started speaking to me the way I was speaking to myself and I immediately went on the defense; I would never let anyone speak to me like that, so why was I allowing my mind to speak to me like that? And so began my journey to self-love.
At 27 years old, I began to teach myself how to love myself; it is the greatest lesson I am still learning. My hope is that this will soon be taught in schools daily ,as a part of the education curriculum. It is assumed that human beings already know how to love and that if self-love were to be taught, it is our parent’s job to teach us; but what about the children who are raised in an abusive home? Who are brought up in the care system, by multiple carers? What about the children whose parents were never taught self-love? The only consistency for these children is school.
I am told they are teaching mental health awareness, they are teaching young people to recognize when they are feeling sad or angry or not right and what they should do when they feel this way; they are managing it but they are not preventing it. Our individuality, our uniqueness needs to be promoted; why do we make a room full of unique, individual beings do the same thing? Why do we attach the same expectation to completely different beings? And act surprised when they become frustrated, angry, confused, sad and insecure. We are setting them up for failure; we are destroying the artist who cannot spell. Children who are reminded that they are powerful, unique, worthy and perfectly enough just as they are, will grow into adults who are empowered and resilient; adults who will have enough self-love to face and to overcome life’s challenges.