Mental Health Awareness Week – is it just another date in the calendar?

I wasn’t aware that 13 – 19 May this year was Mental Health Awareness Week until I saw a reference to it yesterday. I wanted to write something around the mental health theme but needed to check out the dates. I had to search and search. It certainly didn’t leap out from my screen which made me wonder just how common the knowledge of its existence as an important international event was.

As more and more Special Awareness Events are added to our calendars I wonder if their value and potency to bring such awareness will be dissipated*.

Back in 2000 I was working as a Primary Teacher and mentioned to my Headteacher that the day was World Poetry Day. She asked all the teaching staff to bring a favourite poem to share at the school assembly. I chose The Snake by D H Lawrence, a beautiful poem that focuses broadly on peaceful interaction between species. The majority of the others, including all senior staff, went for ‘schoolboy humour’, ‘lowest common denominator’ type verse in a way that I felt patronised the intelligence of the pupils. Why? Because they couldn’t see the value in it. These were the same staff who hated putting effort into class school assemblies finding them such a waste of time that they made it into a game by giving each teacher the challenge of secreting three words or phrases into what their pupils would say. Again, why? Because they cared so little for their pupils that they preferred to provide a laugh for their colleagues than to show respect for the students’ efforts. I admit that I succumbed to the pressure but felt cheapened by it.

What has this to do with Awareness Events?

I use it as an analogy for how some regard these Special Dates. A bit of an annoyance having to pay lip-service to yet another ‘caring about something I don’t care about’ event. It’s easy to share a Post, click on ‘Like’ – as if it mattered to you.

The other aspect is that of overload.

In May there are at least 21 International Awareness Events: Global Hand Hygiene Day, International Day of Families, Mental Health Awareness Week, World Hypertension Day, World AIDS Vaccine Day, International Museums Day, World Pre-eclampsia Day, Maternal Mental Health Month, Measurement Month, World Meditation Day, World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, World Goth Day, World Turtle Day, European Neighbour’s Day, International Missing Children’s Day, World Hunger Day, World Digestive Health Day, International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, National Biscuit Day, World MS Day, World No Tobacco Day.

In the USA and UK there are many more specific to them, and I list six of the first I came across as example. The USA has Teen Self-Esteem Month, Zombie Awareness Month, National Clean Air Month, National Public Gardens Week, National Wine Day, National Memorial Day in the US. The UK has National Cycling Month, Deaf Awareness Week, Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Neuro-diversity Celebration Week, National Feet Week, British Tomato Week. There must be countries all over the globe with their own special awareness dates.

So, could we combine some of these events into a single week or a single month? Would that help in making more of a focus, a bigger impact? It certainly doesn’t appear to be working as it is.

Let’s at least try Quality over Quantity. Surely it couldn’t have less of an impact than there is now.

*I just had to add here, being a bit of a language geek, that Word offered ‘degenerate, debauched, immoral’ as adjectival synonyms totally disregarding the synonyms of ‘dispersed, disintegrated, thrown away’ when the word is used as a verb.