Mental health awareness week will fall on the 13th of May, and this year’s theme is body image. An opportunity to talk about the serious issues which affect millions of people.
The stigma around mental health can make it seem impossible to overcome issues and find hope and positivity when you are at your lowest. Despite this, it’s not impossible, and with the rise of poetry books tackling the issue opening up becomes a lot easier.
A report exclusively obtained by The Guardian has highlighted that mental health rates are ‘alarmingly high’ amongst young people and this is confirmed by findings from mental health charity Mind. Figures show that 50% of mental health problems in adults begin by the age of 14.
Worrying findings by a survey carried out by the Clyde Outside last year, showed that 88% of respondents said they struggled to open up about their mental health – with the majority saying it was because they don’t want to ‘annoy’ people with their issues.
Poetry books which focus on mental health, such as Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, dive into deep and sometimes difficult topics such as depression, anxiety, addiction and abuse.
How can people possibly like to read about such ‘depressing’ issues?
The Times best-selling author of ‘Black Rainbow’ Rachel Kelly, talks openly about her personal struggles with depression and how expressing her feelings through poetry and engaging with it has helped her on the road to recovery.
Rachel, who previously had a career in Journalism and is mother to two sons fell seriously ill and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, which seriously affected her life as a working mother.
She turned the negatives into a positive by publishing her experiences and now works as a mental health ambassador to help others. She said: “I know for me it was just a lifesaver, It gave me a different story in my head when I was really desperate.
“A good poet can take something which is really complex, and make it so simple. There is nothing positive about lying in a psychiatric hospital with depression, but six or seven words can save your life really.
“It’s just like a positive mantra, as your brain can’t focus on much so just a line of poetry can be so powerful.”
Rachel went on to explain how in recent studies and through her own research it has been proven that poetry can positively affect mental health, as it forced people to concentrate on the moment: “People say oh take some medication you’ll be fine, that’s not my experience.
“Everyone needs to try different things out. If someone was cynical about how poetry could possibly help, I think what I would say is just give it a chance.
“I was actually at a reading group and we were sharing poetry, this woman had listened to a man’s and it was quite moving, she said she has been to psychiatrists and counselors for over 20 years and this is the first time she feels understood.”
The online survey carried out by the Clyde Outside targeted young mental health sufferers and has shown that 85% of respondents believe that there are enough support and services available, with 92% saying not enough has been done to beat mental health stigma.
Charlene McElhinney, the poet of ‘Melancholy Minds’, whose book was heavily influenced by Rupi Kaur’s ‘Milk and Honey’ spoke about how she coped – and sometimes didn’t – as a university student who suffers from poor mental health.
Charlene has explained why mental health poetry is so important: “In this day and age with social media people will reach out a lot more. Other people who are having these thoughts can realize they are not alone. That simple realization can change a complete mindset.
“It’s as normal as novels and other books now to pick up and read I think. It’s good because every person takes something different away from it.
“My first year at university was hard – you’d think there would be a lot more support there. I went to get counselling and the waiting list was so long.
“They said they would need to record the meetings and that kind of put me off, so I just had to go through it myself. It should definitely be getting taught in schools in some form, it’s such a notorious subject.
“People are comparing their situations and people feel their situation is minor compared to someone else because so many people suffer with it now. Instead of telling someone and facing the issue they would rather connect by reading or writing poetry: you can hide messages within poetry.”
A young mental health sufferer who wishes to remain anonymous, said “It’s nice to know you’re not alone in the way you feel. I think as a whole, people just want to have their chance to tell their story or their side of things.”
Anyone who is suffering from mental health issues and feels that they need help can contact the Samaritans on 01412484488.