I have heard the phrase ‘raising awareness’ many times in the past month. I am wondering, aside from the obvious, what does it actually mean? In real terms, what happens when awareness is raised? As importantly, what happens after awareness has been raised?
Casting my mind back, I am struck by the outpouring following Robin Williams’ death and how his suicide should help raise awareness of mental health issues. I can’t recall another instance leading to such a response about raising awareness of depression. If you can think of another one then please let me know.
Let me be clear. I have nothing against Robin Williams or people who felt sad at his death. I have nothing against people wanting to say that awareness of depression should be raised. I do have a problem with what seems to be the great gaping hole after awareness has been raised. What next? What are we going to do now awareness has been raised?
So we know depression exists. What do we do next? How do we help people more? Does an awareness campaign last long enough to keep the momentum going to affect change in the long term? Or do things have a brief boost and then reset?
Raised awareness can also be affected by outside influences. Imagine you are a charity trying to promote actual facts based on research and you are confronted by a media only interested in telling one side of the story, usually the juiciest and most salacious. How are you going to get the real awareness raised? What do you do when people are thinking they know the real facts behind something when they have only been told the ones most likely to sell?
I wonder what really changed about awareness of depression after Robin Williams died? Are more people aware of depression as a concept? More people were talking about it so logic dictates that more people know about it. Or are people more aware of it as a concept but not aware of the details? I am not saying one way or the other, but I do wonder.
Did people come away with their awareness raised about how to spot the signs in someone who might be depressed, or of helplines they can phone for support, or feel more free to discuss the subject? Did people with depression feel less isolated? I am hoping that people do take knowledge away with them. Or you can let me know. I am aware that I don’t know what others learnt, so feel free to add your thoughts.
How long do we look at something when awareness is being raised? How long do we keep looking at it before we move on? If we look for a finite period of time before something else comes along, how long is the awareness raised for? Does it have a shelf life? What happens after this?
One thing has niggled me for a while. It was a comment I read on Facebook and I am sure it was well meant. You can be the judge. The comment was ‘Do something for people with depression. Say a prayer for them today’ or pretty close to that. Am I a terrible person for getting annoyed by this? Perhaps my own awareness is lacking. I was not aware that being depressed was something that could be prayed away.
In the end I am curious why I am so bothered about it. Raising awareness should be an obvious thing for me to support. I do support it. I also get angry that there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and that people suffer for longer than they need to as a result. Awareness is being raised and that is a good thing. Things are getting better. Or I like to think so. Can they get better more quickly? I hope so.
I think what really brought it home was learning that it takes an average of thirteen years for an ex-military service person suffering from PTSD to seek support. Imagine the how high the wait time for some is to make the average thirteen years? This breaks my heart. Which is why people are trying to raise awareness of it and other issues like it. I hope the awareness is and stays raised.