Are we talking too much about mental health now?

Steven Downes wonders if we are talking too much about our mental health Picture: Getty Images/iS

Steven Downes wonders if we are talking too much about our mental health Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is going to be a very difficult column to write.

I've been honest and open in recent years (and previous articles) about my mental health ups and downs, which took me to the brink of death and deeper than the depths of despair.

The struggles will continue for the rest of my life - it's how I'm wired.

For me, talking has been a huge factor in my recovery and my ongoing coping strategies.

But, at the risk of sounding hypocritical, I'm worried that we are now hearing and seeing too much about mental health. We are talking too much.

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Every celebrity seems to have a mental illness back-story. Countless other people are baring their souls.

A day does not go by without a story somewhere featuring "I hit rock-bottom" or "I did not want to go on".

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Every story has merit, but together they could have a concussing effect on the nation's psyche. The sheer relentlessness and saturation coverage could breed complacency, cynicism and disinterest. Human nature causes us all to become fed-up with the familiar.

Is it also possible that unscrupulous people will take advantage.

In fact, I think they already are doing. Barely a court case concludes without mental ill health being mentioned in mitigation by a defence brief. Sometimes it's a fair point to make - but surely there are occasions when the villain just a villain?

You also hear celebrities using it as a sympathy card to soften the reaction to their excesses: "I would like to sincerely apologise for any hurt that I may have caused. I have been battling demons and will be undergoing therapy."

It's amazing how often "demons" only exist when somebody is found out.

Meanwhile, there's the increasingly tricky world of work, where being a line manager or in human resources can be like trying to land a punch on Floyd Mayweather while wearing a blindfold.

It is fantastic that there is so much more understanding about mental ill-health in the workplace, but it's next to impossible to discern when somebody is pulling a fast one.

I could easily call in sick one morning, citing "severe anxiety". Who would question it?

To make it clear, I wholeheartedly believe in openness about mental health: also in the culture of compassion in our workplaces. I am also convinced that the vast majority of people are trustworthy.

But the publicity is a double-edged sword: while it encourages us to bring mental ill-health into the open, it also can tempt us to overthink our lives and find mental illness where perhaps it does not exist.

I've trawled through my past to find triggers for my current condition, to convince myself that I've always been anxious and - therefore - mentally ill.

The reality is, though, that it was largely just the slings and arrows of life - good days and bad days, which we all have.

Sometimes I feel low because life is rubbish. I know from bitter experience that these moments are far removed from the abyss of anxiety and depression.

I see mental health as something that we all have. Some have good mental health, others bad - still others mixed.

If you look at it as a sliding scale of one to 100 (with one as "feeling great" and 100 as a severe crisis), we can all put ourselves somewhere - and the place changes every day.

Today, I'm at about number 25. It's October (autumn drags me down), it's been raining, but the weekend is coming and I'm going to see my grandchildren, then play football.

I'm mildly anxious, but that's permanent. Overall, I'm feeling OK.

Where would you put yourself on the mental health scale? And at what point would you say mental health becomes mental ill health?

If you know the answer, bottle it, for the experts haven't been able to pin it down. The mysteries of the mind mean that I fear they never will.

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