I’m Mental, How Are You?
It’s World Mental Health Day.
You’ll no doubt be bombarded with lots of facts and figures, statistics and if you haven’t heard already, you’ll be made aware that the Government Department of Health and Comic Relief have kindly secured funding for the ‘Time to Change’ campaign – which aims to put an end to stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness - to continue until 2015.
This is amazing news for Mind and Rethink, the charities that set up the campaign, but we must remember that this oh so generous, giving, caring government is the same one that has cut welfare and benefits forced the closure of invaluable charities and services and will continue to make access to mental health services increasingly difficult for the huge number of people in great need of help and support. I’m not here to have a pop, but I can’t help thinking that this well-timed gesture is just a tad contrived. I see right through it.
It’s quite likely that you, the reader, has, or have had, a mental health problem. If that’s the case, it’s almost certain that you will at some point have wished that you hadn’t and felt ashamed, self concious, embarassed or wanted to quite literally curl up in a ball and die. I don’t use that term loosely. It’s also probably true that you have tried to hide the fact that you have a mental illness – whether that is batting off compliments, saying “I’m fine” when you know you’re far from it, lying about why you are missing social gatherings or reassuring loved ones that there is no problem as your heart aches to tell them the horrible truth.
People are often surprised at my openness and honesty when it comes to mental illness, so much so that it has got me into trouble on a number of occassions. In hospital, I was accused by a nurse of having a blasé attitude to my eating disorder. I told her that if she thought I was unconcerned about my illness and it’s consequences, she was very much mistaken. Some people find it hard to take a blunt approach, but I see no point in beating around the bushes. This confidence in talking openly and actually being able to express my problems and feelings has developed over many years but one thing that has played a massive part in me being able to do what I do, write about and talk about mental illness, is the sad fact that so many people feel they don’t have a voice.
There is never, ever a reason to hide.
We need to look at what it is that makes us say we’re fine when we’re not, tell our friends we can’t make it and let the phone ring off to avoid the questions. What’s so bad about saying “I feel really, really shit.” And if it is the inevitable shame or the guilt or the not wanting to be a burden – nobody likes a moaner – then we need to ask ourselves we should attach such strong, destructive feelings to something that so many of us experience at some time, if not every day.
There is no reason to be ashamed.
A minority of people with mental health problems accept them fully and are able to even appreciate their illness. Some are even proud; some might say it makes them who they are or allows them to express themselves in a way that they couldn’t even touch upon were they of sound mind. Experience tells me that the majority of people who have mental health issues are truly amazing people, often talented beyond belief yet completely unable to acknowledge that. There is an overwhelming sadness in seeing someone with so much potential, so much to give, be so cloaked in their illness that all they feel is self-hatred. I have sat in a room of 12 girls, all in recovery from Anorexia or Bulimia, where we have been asked to write down one thing that we like about ourselves. The silence was heartbreaking.
But then, ask any Brit to list ten things that they like about themselves and they will struggle. We don’t like to boast and many of us find it very difficult to say out loud the achievements that do give us a sense of pride.
Maybe this is where we get stuck. We don’t want to be a drag, so we don’t tell people when we’re sad, and we don’t like to risk seeming big-headed, so we keep anything positive to ourselves too. Our problem isn’t that we don’t talk at all, it’s that we don’t talk about the things, the feelings, that matter the most.
Forgive me for this, but I’m going to quote Cool Runnings here. The Jamaican bobsleigh team arrive in Calgary to a reception of cold stares, awkward silence, discrimination and bullying. To reassure Sanca, Yul Brenner places a hand on his shoulder and says, “People always afraid of what’s different”. The very same applies to mental illness. People don’t know how to react or respond to people, things, behaviours that are unfamiliar, because they don’t understand them. This is where we run into difficulty, because if the person with the problem finds it hard or even impossible to talk about their illness or disability, how are friends, relatives and employers expected to know, prepare or deal with a situation which involves that problem?
We all have to take responsibility here. It is simply childish to sit and not make an effort to learn about mental illness because the likelihood is that if you don’t suffer, someone close to you will. The more we talk, the easier it will become – for both sides.
None of this needs to be hushed up anymore. The mind is a fascinating instrument; we have no reason to keep schtum about the wonderous, intricate things it can do.
Of course, mental illness can be devastating beyond comprehension, but it demands respect and we must do just that.
Take Care.mental health, mental illness, WMHD, world mental health day
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