By Michael Nulty.

A conversation about mental health has the power to change lives. Your friend, co-worker, family member or even yourself may very well be one of the 1 in 5 people who are living with a mental illness today. Because no one can tell from the outside if some one is suffering with this invisible illness we have to talk about it. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and at The Mental Health Foundation we want you to join with us in Talking Mental Health.

So firstly what is mental health? Well in simple terms mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, affecting how we think, feel, and act about everything in our life. And a mental illness is a physical illness of the brain that creates a disruption to that same thinking, feeling or acting that makes it difficult to cope with sometimes the simplest of activities in our daily life. Many factors contribute to mental health problems including biological factors, such as genes, brain chemistry. life experiences such as trauma or abuse or a family history of mental health problems.

Why is talking about mental health difficult? Unfortunately our society treats mental illness differently to other illnesses, making people suffering with a mental illness scared to talk openly about their condition in fear of being labeled “unstable” or something worse. There is a built in sense of shame for those with a mental disorder that gets reinforced by the unintentional wrong messages pushed out by every day people in our society. Comments like “ You don’t look ill”, “why don’t you just snap out of it” create this view that a mental disorder can just be turned on and off or that people dealing with a mood disorder are just looking for attention and sympathy. The stigma of shame stops people talking about their feelings, especially men, causing them to ignore their symptoms and getting the professional help they need. Do you know that nearly 60%* of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health assistance in the last year. If you are concerned about your own mental health you should talk with someone.

Why is talking about mental health important? Although we can observe the outward effects of a mental illness, symptoms are often misunderstood especially by someone who has never know what it’s like to live a day with depression or anxiety. As a society we also need to stop thinking of a mental illness as something to be ashamed of and start thinking of it as a serious health concern that significantly changes and takes lives. It is the responsibility of those of us who have lived and are living with a mental illness to show our friends, co-workers and family members the real face of mental illness and to say proudly

 That although I have stood alongside you all these years I have suffered in silence from my mental illness and it is time for me to be afraid no more “

Starting the conversation about mental illness, whether it’s something you’re dealing with yourself or trying to help someone you love, is hard, I know that for sure. For many years I wore the happy mask hiding my anxiety and depression from everyone in my life. It was only after a few suicide attempts that I was left with no choice but to get the help I needed to begin the journey out of the darkness. For Mental Health Awareness Month I look forward to sharing with you my story – how I was able to get beyond my depressionanxiety, financial ruin, homelessness and being down and out to becoming a published author, international speaker, and founder of YourLifeSchool.