The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

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Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

Yesterday, the 10th October, was World Mental Health Day. Oh how that snuck up on me this year? I dare say I am guilty of being so self-absorbed that I totally forgot. For someone with their head very much in the mental health bubble, online and offline, I totally missed its presence on the horizon.

I suppose this could be seen as a good sign. A good sign that for once my life isn’t revolved around mental health activities and mental health events and mental health awareness and mental health appointments and mental health illness and mental health woes and mental health anything, everything, and submersion until myself and my life are drowning in mental health this and that. It means that my life is moving on and becoming more than my mental health difficulties: which is brilliant. That hasn’t really happened for me perhaps ever. It’s nice. I’m enjoying myself.

However, that doesn’t mean that I ignore World Mental Health Day. Nope. It is important because for every single person who is in a position like I find myself this year, getting on with life with little thought towards their illness other than remembering to take their meds each day, is someone else who is like I was 1 year ago, 2 years ago, 6 years ago.

There are people stuck trying to navigate building a life beyond hospitals and appointments and meds. There are people who have been winded by the blow of mental ill-health who have absolutely no idea how to do anything anymore. There are people for whom making it to the toilet is an achievement, for whom showering is an insurmountable task, who may be stuck on the carousel of going in and out hospital wards. There are working people who are feeling unable to speak up whilst they stuff it all back inside themselves, far far away from the surface of their existence. There are people sat in class who can’t even speak up when their name is called in the register.

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There are hundreds and thousands of people motioning forwards in silence of the pain they face each day from their mental health. There are the ones who need to stay strong for others and in doing so neglect their own needs, those who are ashamed to be feeling how they are because of ought to’s and should’s that can quite frankly, go and fuck themselves. No one has the right to tell you how you should be feeling or thinking or living your life.

I could go on all day about all the millions of people who need help that don’t get it, who are receiving help and still struggling, and who stuff it all into the depth of their distant psyche to try to crack on with each day.

It is for those people that we need World Mental Health Day. You are not alone. I think the online world shows that more than ever. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be a negative experience; you could offload or share the good stuff that you’ve found that helps you. You don’t need a diagnosis to talk about mental health because, and i’m going to go down that old cliché track, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health. We talk about how much it sucks to have a cough or common cold, lets talk just as much about how much it sucks to be anxious, or feeling a bit off emotionally too.

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Go on. Pop the kettle on. Have a brew. Have a chat, have a cigarette if you fancy it, have some herbal tea if you fancy that and let’s just be available for each other so that we can all feel supported no matter how difficult it feels, or how difficult our mental health difficulties make us. Let’s be open and embrace that yes it happens, yes it’s OK for it to happen and no, it’s not taboo.

I promise, if you tell me you’re feeling pretty shit maybe depressed, maybe not depressed I’m not going to start fidgeting with my jumper cuffs in an awkward way as if you just told me you’re sleeping with my brother and here, check out my tits whilst I’m at it. I won’t look at you, or into the distance between us as if you just did that because mental health isn’t shocking, whereas talking to me as if you just did the aforementioned would be a bit, well, uncomfortable.