Why we need to talk about mental health

Emma, a member of our advocate panel, shares how Girlguiding helped her through a difficult time in her life. This World Mental Health Day she is calling on us all to talk, listen and help each other out when we’re struggling.

10 October 2017

This blog post contains references to eating disorders.

World Mental Health Day is a very happy day for me.

Maybe that sounds strange, but on this day, mental health stigma is slightly lessened. For once, I can say ‘I suffer from mental health conditions’, and I don’t feel quite as frightened of rejection and ridicule. It’s a small change, but it makes me feel safer. It makes me feel happier. I’m planning to make the most of it.

What’s the issue?

In 2016, Girlguiding’s Girls' Attitudes Survey revealed how widespread the issue of mental health is amongst girls and young women. Every year, we give this survey to a diverse range of girls and young women in the UK to find out their opinions on issues affecting their lives. We discovered that 37% of 11-21-year olds have experienced a mental health problem, and on top of this, 75% of girls feel they are ‘not good enough’. This suggests that around three quarters of girls are struggling with their mental wellbeing in some way.

Unfortunately, mental health is a taboo subject in our society. Mental health is scary, so the norm is to avoid talking about it. However, talking about it seems to be both the best prevention and resolution to mental health problems, and so repressing them tends to further damage our mental health. And if so many girls and young women struggle with their mental wellbeing, why is it that they are perceived as ‘not normal’?

Girlguiding was there for me

Girlguiding aims to better the lives of girls and young women, and tackling mental health problems is a crucial part of this. Three years ago, I became so sick from anorexia that my doctors didn’t permit me to move from a chair all day. As I recovered, I was told that I could choose one activity to restart. I said ‘I want to go back to Guides’. Girlguiding’s support was unbelievable. 

At Guides, I could be myself, be silly, try new things and have fun. I could finally believe that no one was judging me.

They even allowed me to go camping with them. I remember my leader sitting with me when I had a panic attack about eating. I remember how calm and patient she was, and how she eventually gave me the confidence to eat with her. Part of the reason that I now volunteer for Girlguiding myself is that I feel I owe so much to this amazing organisation. Girlguiding was there for me in a time when very few others were. I can’t express my gratitude towards them.

Girlguiding creating change

It’s not just me who Girlguiding support. Every girl in guiding gets the same access that I did to a safe, girls-only space where they can be confident, enjoy themselves and develop their resilience. We also have resources that target bettering mental health. Our Think Resilient badge allows girls to learn skills such as positive thinking, self-calming and recognising their achievements in an exciting and fun way. We also have a system of Peer Education, where 14-25-year old Girlguiding members come to Girlguiding groups to teach girls about issues such as body confidence and mental resilience.

This year, researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow found that people who had been members of guiding and scouting have a 15% lower risk of suffering from anxiety and mood disorders. To me, this demonstrates that the Girlguiding approach is working, and I think that it’s time for the rest of society to follow suit.

Thankfully, I truly believe that things are changing. If you compare modern attitudes to mental health to those of 20 or even 10 years ago, it seems clear to me that mental health is more accepted now than ever before. However, Girlguiding’s survey results demonstrate that we still have a long way to go.

We need to keep talking about mental health, better our understanding of it, support those who are struggling, accept our own mental health difficulties and be brave enough to seek help when it is needed.

If we can end our fear of mental health and go out there and talk about it, we can gain the skills we need to look after our own minds. By talking, we give ourselves power over mental health problems. Happy World Mental Health Day.