MY sister is one the strongest people I know. When she first posted about her struggles with depression on her social media page a few years ago, it changed a lot – for her, for me, for those around us.

She told me what inspired her to open up was being around other people who were going through the same. She also said how difficult it was writing the posts. “I was crying tears,” she said: “I had doubts. Then after posting it I felt a lot of pressure was lifted.”

Back then, it was an awakening for me. To her, and how she felt – a more raw account than the messages saying “okay” she had previously sent when I asked “how are you doing?” How isolated she was for a while.

Overall, it brought us closer. It made me take the time to listen and, despite what I thought was a genuine openness towards mental health, confront my own awkwardness and misconceptions. It inspired me to enrol in a mental health first aid course to address exactly those.

It also made me see how mental health is discussed. Heart emojis were shared, hug gifs sent. But there were also messages to me, and herself, warning her of speaking this candidly. Questions were asked about whether sharing such detailed accounts of her wellbeing was “too much” or “for attention”.

I saw her recently, having to answer questions about how she was feeling over breakfast. Her, so bravely, being honest about what exactly that was. “Everybody feels sad sometimes,” someone said. And there it was, only a fraction of a second, first a look of shock, then a shadow over her eyes, and then a smile and a polite nod. The conversation moved on to something else. “It’s how it is,” she told me later.

It is Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign run annually by The Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who say it aims “to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others' mental health”, with this year’s focus being anxiety.

The work the foundation, and so many other dedicated charities have done has been absolutely outstanding. So many provide crucial support to people and help fight towards a more positive society when it comes to mental health every day.

Yet, such increased awareness should not lead to a continuation of acceptance that that’s how things are. It simply cannot when more and more people are struggling every day and there are so many issues to grapple with.

According to data obtained through a freedom of information request by Scottish Labour earlier this year, the number of mental health calls to NHS 24 has soared from 20,434 in 2019 to 139,008 last year. And yet, despite the suckerpunch these numbers already provide, I can’t help but worry that what we see now is potentially only the tip of the iceberg.

Expert charities have always said mental health can be influenced by so many things: mental health conditions, trauma, our environment, stress, anxiety, physical health, loneliness, social media. They have highlighted how broad but complex mental wellbeing is and that changes in our society are negatively affecting a growing number of people.

Aside from the cost-of-living crisis, loneliness is said to have affected many people’s mental health in recent times. During last year’s awareness week, which centred around loneliness, the MHF said that a quarter of adults in Scotland felt lonely some or all of the time a month prior, and that around a third of those questioned said feelings of loneliness had a negative impact on their mental health.

It is a problem that remains. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report published this March, an average of 26% of people questioned said they felt lonely “often, always or some of the time.” When split into age groups, those that gave the answer the most (37%) were young people aged between 16-29.

Then, despite increasing awareness, there still is stigma when it comes to mental health – both external and internal.

I have seen it. Friends that have said they feel like “a bad mother”, “a bad employee”, “a bad family member” for “not coping” or admitting they weren’t well. The waiting times they face when they do. I have seen that same fraction of a second look I saw on my sister on other people’s faces when mental health concerns have been dismissed by teachers, university lecturers, and other people.

My sister told me recently that “some people are just really cruel and don’t understand.” How she has been told she says things “for attention” or that she “is lazy” – and it breaks my heart. For her, obviously, but even more so in the knowledge she is not the only one that feels this way.

Anecdotes like hers show that stigma is prevalent overall. However, it is apparently even more so for “people severely affected by mental illness” according to charity Rethink Mental Illness, who published a survey on this in 2021.

They found that three in four people questioned felt that levels of stigma towards people severely affected by mental illness have not improved in the last decade; 86% said that the fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against stopped them from doing things they wanted to do, including seeking help for a mental problem.

Of course, and I guess this is the crux, mental health awareness is fine, but action is what’s actually needed. Sure, that action involves all of us. We all have a role to play to recognise the many aspects of mental health and provide more support to those that need our help – be that in the form of direct help or opening our minds towards educating ourselves on stigma and how to challenge it.

Ultimately, that should not take our loved ones, as it was in my case, to spell it out for us. It should come from a place of knowledge that mental illness knows no bounds and can affect everyone.

Still, action also needs to come from those at the helm – politicians, the government. It would be wrong to say the issue was not recognised at all.

However, when reading that the pledge by the SNP government to recruit an additional 1,000 mental health specialists has been delayed, during a time so many services already face sky-high waiting times, and have voiced their concerns over underfunding, it does feel that we are lacking the urgency the issues may require and the commitment towards solutions people deserve.

This awareness week, like so many others, is of vast importance and will do so much good. But what we need is some action.