Mental Health Awareness Week 2018: are awareness dates useful for mental health?


Stress is a normal bodily response, but is usually considered a negative feeling. Stress is a major factor in survival and is an important part of the ‘flight or fight response’, which makes us react to dangerous situations such as moving out of the way of a reversing car. While this response was mainly helpful for when our ancestors lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles, and for avoiding danger, this response is more often triggered in day-to-day life than when it is necessary, making us feel stressed out. You can read about managing day-to-day stress in Amy’s blog by clicking here. It is important to be aware of our own andeach other’s stresses, since stress can affect our mental health and is often a factor for the development of mental health problems or the worsening of existing ones.


One of the ways to recognise our own and each other’s’ stresses is to use ‘awareness dates’ to focus discussions about stress and mental health. Awareness dates are national or international awareness days, weeks, or months which are designated by an organisation or government, to recognise the importance of medical research, or to highlight an ethical cause of importance. Anyone who has viewed the list of UK awareness days online will know that there are awareness dates covering most days of the calendar year. Some have more novelty value, such as National Tea Day, but there are also many dates which support important causes, such as World Cancer Day. Many UK charities have created dedicated dates to raise awareness of their cause as well as encourage fundraising donations. Scientists also use awareness days to raise awareness of research and research methods, such as International Clinical Trials Day. This year, the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week is Stress: Are We Coping? Mental Health Awareness Week is happening between the 14th and 20th May. I wanted to discuss whether awareness dates can be useful for mental health, and getting people to talk about it.


By using this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign for talking about stress, the Mental Health Foundation is promoting tackling stress to help combat the development of mental health problems later on. This is an interesting angle to take, as usually we think about awareness days of raising awareness of an issue itself, rather than the factors that contribute to an issue. As stress is something that we are all able to experience and are likely to experience in our lives, it seems fitting that we should be aware of our own stress and others’.


Discussions about mental health are important, especially due to the social stigma which, unfortunately, still surrounds mental health. People with experience of mental health problems have said that they have experienced stigma and discrimination from society, their employers and their friends and family. One of the ways used to help combat social stigma is to voice opinions and share knowledge.


One of the most popular ways people have been talking about mental health is via social media, often branching from charities such as Heads Together and Time to Change, which have both had successful trending campaigns. A positive of this is that social media can reach people on an individual scale as well as their networks. This means people can learn and be influenced on a personal level and may instinctively begin talking to people in real life, which can help to break down barriers of stigma and normalise discussions about mental health. Social media is also a useful tool for generating dialogue and passion about topics among populations and is an instrumental part of the organisation of awareness dates.

As with all trending topics, trends come and go, which some could say is the same for awareness dates. As these dates only cover short periods of time and are often highly focussed, it means that discussions and propaganda for them can be as short-lived as social media trends. Therefore, it is important that we don’t just use awareness dates as our only platform for discussions about mental health but use these dates as foundations for forming long-term commitments to mental health discussion, support and research.


Furthermore, research into whether there is enough evidence to support the benefits of awareness dates has suggested that if health awareness dates remain unchecked, they may do little more than promote the idea of individual responsibility for our health, and health, and that the health problems we experience are due to certain behaviours or factors within our control, such as our diets or sun exposure (Purtle and Roman, 2015). More research evidence is perhaps needed into how useful awareness days are for different causes and whether they can be useful for areas of our health such as mental health.


On a positive note, awareness dates can offer help with continuing education of the public, for example, what mental health is and why we should care about it. They can also help spread knowledge of resources which can be used by those who are or know someone who is experiencing a mental health problem. This kind of outreach can offer support, information and empowerment which can really help people with mental health problems and change the perceptions people have about mental health. Because of this, awareness dates are beneficial to mental health, but what is more valuable are the long-term commitments we make to mental health following Mental Health Awareness week.




What will you be doing for Mental Health Awareness Week this year?

For ideas on how to get involved, please click here.


Purtle, J., & Roman, L. A. (2015). Health awareness days: Sufficient evidence to support the craze? American Journal of Public Health, 105(6), 1061–1065.