E&M's Lisa O' Leary takes a look at the mental health landscape in Europe.

E&M’s Lisa O’ Leary takes a look at the mental health landscape in Europe. Starting from Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the Olympics (for more on this, check out Friederike’s article on Olympic Rage), Lisa reflects on what is needed to start taking mental health serious.

Last month, in a dramatic and historical move, Simone Biles – the greatest gymnast of all of time – stunned world viewers by withdrawing from the 2020 Olympics sighting mental health issues. Biles  later returned in an unexpected comeback to compete in the balance beam final winning the bronze medal and stating “I will treasure this one a lot more after everything I have been through”. Unsurprisingly Biles was met with a mixed reception of both overwhelming support and ridicule. However, whether you support her or not – the reality remains true; poor metal health can take down even the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T). It is unfortunate that we have to wait for influential figures to flag such pressing issues but with that said, Biles’ actions have opened the mental health flood gates and it feels like there’s no going back. So what now, world?

Hypocrisy in Europe

The message in many European countries is a contradictory one. While the experts state that we should ‘treat mental health like any other health issue’ the route to mental health support is far from accessible. In short, you need to have a disposable income. It costs to get help with your mental health but if you break your arm you will receive immediate and affordable attention. This is a confusing message to many Europeans. While there are, to some extent, free services and programmes for those on a low income budget (that’s a lot of us) the waiting lists are long and can discourage those who need immediate help from getting support at all. So no. We can not ‘treat mental health like any other health issue’ because the services are not accessible to the vast majority of the public.

Photo by Sydney Sims, Unsplash license

We appear to still be operating within a social system that bases our understanding of human behaviour on surface-level action and not taking into account the entirety and complexity of the human being

Social Stigma

The collective eye-roll was palpable from those against Simone Biles’s with-drawl. Despite being the most successful gymnast in the world, it didn’t take long for millions to turn on the athlete calling her ‘weak’ and ‘a disgrace to her country’. This of course would not be the case had Biles suffered a physical injury, where she would have been applauded for her “determination and bravery”. Nonetheless Biles stood strong and spoke frankly about her decision stating “You have no idea what we go through”. While a throwaway comment at the time, Biles’ words in fact highlight exactly the underlining issue of the stigma attached to mental health: a complete lack of understanding or empathy by viewers and the general public. We appear to still be operating within a social system that bases our understanding of human behaviour on surface-level action and not taking into account the entirety and complexity of the human being. This has led to dismissive attitudes in many environments of work and learning, and an absence of support in the medical system. The road to normalising mental health remains a long one.

The Future of Mental Health in the EU

What will mental health look like in a post Tokyo Olympics world? Will there finally be a collective “enough is enough” or, like most mental health crisis in the past, will we choose to once again sweep it all under the rug? As it stands, the subject of mental health in the work place in general remains a taboo, with workers using their sick days as mental health days and concocting physical ailments for their absence. This proves that the work environment as we know it needs to step up their mental health game and be a main contributor to the normalisation of mental health discussion. That doesn’t mean hosting a monthly yoga class during employees lunch hour, but effectively implementing new regulations into employees rights and benefits. Looking at the whole human and not just their paper.

That doesn’t mean hosting a monthly yoga class during employees lunch hour, but effectively implementing new regulations into employees rights and benefits

If we continue to side-step mental health support in this still-pandemic world where we are all constantly connected to a cosmos of fast content – the future looks bleak. If you’re an employer, be prepared to see a lot more sick days, low morale, burn out and fast turnover. However, if we do in fact begin to implement more mental health support care into our day-to-day environments, imagine how much more productive we would all be! Simone Biles prioritised her mental health and remains one of the best athletes the world has ever seen. It is high time we do the same, and see what better mental health care can achieve.

Cover photo: Flickr images creative commons license

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    Lisa O' Leary is a freelance video producer and writer originally from Ireland, now living in Hamburg. She studied Multimedia Communications in Ireland and Human Rights Law & Film abroad.  She has a passion for impact storytelling and mostly produces video content for NGOs or documentaries.

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