Hello peeps of the world.
Today is October 10th- WORLD mental health day.
The world is a BIG place with many humans in it, and many of those humans (probably far more I’d suspect than the usually cited 1 in 4) will have lived experience of mental ill health, ergo, they have experience, because they have lived out those illnesses in their life.
I have lived experience of mental ill health, but not the usual story of depression and anxiety.
I have a diagnosed personality disorder GASP
I also have post-traumatic stress disorder
And I am currently being evaluated by a new psychiatrist (the only mental health professionals permitted to make diagnostic decisions,) for a possible dissociative disorder.
Dissociative disorder….wait, what. What is that? I hear you say.
A personality disorder? what does that mean?
PTSD? But how can you have that, you haven’t been in a war have you??
Those are the questions I would imagine you might be thinking, and I know this well, as this is how people usually react; with confused faces, puzzled faces, or quiet silences, indicating people are unsure what to say so are taking the (understandably) safest option and saying nothing.
If you don’t have lived experience, or if you don’t know a close family member of friend who you have closely observed and tried to support during their illness, I guess it is absolutely understandable that you might be uncertain as to how to react.
People like me (the ones who are living with the mental illness) do understand that, and make allowances. I think in time we begin to assess (based on people’s reactions) whether we are disclosing and you are genuinely unsure as to how to respond sensitively and kindly and supportively, and those who genuinely act and think from a position and attitude of prejudice and stigma.
Both types of people exist, and people like me (the mental health illness sufferers) will inevitably bump into both types as we go about our daily lives.
It is sad that prejudice, stigma and negative attitudes towards mental ill health still exist, despite the efforts of many brave mentally unwell people to boldly speak out and attempt to overturn this societal bollocks.
I am not a fan of stigma, associated with many things. I have no issues with many ‘apparently controversial’ issues such as being openly transgender, same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia…the list goes on. I would say I am fairly open minded, but not everyone is, and mental illness is a sticky issue that still is responded to differently (by some), in comparison with their physical illness equivalents, which are usually viewed without stigma or blame or judgement. There is a widespread acceptance of physical illness, that just doesn’t apply (seemingly) with mental illness.
Maybe there is some stigma associated with physical illness, but it relates to things such as lifestyle choices. ie. smokers costing the national health service in the UK far more than non-smokers, because of smoking-related illnesses and deaths. It is the same with blaming people for being alcohol dependant, or obese, or wanting cosmetic surgery on the NHS. But all that aside, people are not usually blamed in any way for becoming physically unwell, and are usually granted sympathy and compassionate attention.
Take how illness in the workplace is responded to. A friend of mine observed a HUGE difference in how her boss reacted when she cited mental health reasons for why she needed to take a day off, as opposed to when she was physically poorly.
If someone is physically poorly we might send them a get well card or even flowers or fruit. But if we are in the midst of a depressive episode, or having panic attacks, or even worse, psychotic, it would be very unusual to get a card or gift or offer of help, (unless they are very close friends and extremely fabulous, in which case you would reward them with plentiful hugs!).
If people are supportive when we explain that we are psychologically poorly, cynical bystanders might well think that we are putting on mental health symptoms to get attention, but people don’t usually judge people who are physically unwell as doing it, on purpose, to get attention.
We all know about the poorly voice people learn to put on during telephone conversations, when we are faking physical illness. School kids learn the poorly voice! It starts young, but even though we know that many days taken off work poorly are sickies, rather than cases of genuine illness, but that is the way of the world, so no one bats an eyelid at your skiving.
People make the assumption that if you are complaining of mental health symptoms, that you must inevitably be making them up, as an excuse, for attention, or to get out of doing things you don’t want to do (such as going to work), but this is NOT TRUE.
People who cite mental health symptoms as reasons for non-attendance at work, or avoidance of social or childcare or other responsibilities are viewed as skivers and attention seekers. REALITY CHECK> Anyone who cites mental health as the reason they cannot do something is very fucking BRAVE to do that, because, whether conscious or unintended, we are actively opposing stigma, and doing our bit to make attitudes in society more open minded, by choosing to be honest with people that we are very much NOT OKAY, and that is ok!!
People do not FAKE mental illness. Mental illness is hard to admit to. Yes, sure, things are improving, and mental health charities and the work they do play a large role in improving things for current and future generations, but it is still VERY DIFFICULT to openly express that our mental health is bad, and that we are emotionally struggling to cope. Mental illness is not a socially acceptable excuse, therefore why would anyone pretend they are mentally unwell, when they are not? It would make no sense. All you would be doing is making things potentially very socially awkward for yourself, so if I could get one message out there to society it would be:-
WHEN WE SAY WE ARE STRUGGLING WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS, PLEASE BELIEVE US!
I talk about mental illness on my blog, and have written quite a bit for mental health charities in the UK (Mind and Time to Change). You can find links to their websites here, as well as Heads Together, (which is another charity affiliated with Mind, led by our British royals, William, Kate and Harry).
All are great sources of information, written in plain English by people who live with mental illness, in our own words.
These charities also have YouTube channels too, where you can watch clips of real people taking about their personal experiences of mental illness (and not just the usual ones such as anxiety and depression- I mean the whole spectrum of different disorders out there that dominate the lives of people who suffer with these emotional challenges.) I would thoroughly recommend you take a look at these as there are so many interesting clips to watch….. (links below)
In terms of my volunteering plans, I got a very exciting email yesterday asking me to speak at some mental health awareness talks in my area next month. I am delighted to be asked (!) particularly as I would like to challenge attitudes and widen people’s understanding of personality disorders and PTSD, and what those labels mean for the people who live with them. This is a fab opportunity and I will do what I can, but I am not the only person striving to improve things. I know there are MANY mental health bloggers and mental health charity media volunteers out there, who are doing an amazing job of fighting stigma by talking honestly and openly about their mental health challenges. WELL DONE! You are growing flowers as you tap the keys….
I am about to sit down and watch a short film of a close blogger friend being interviewed about her mental health. This is something which aired on regional news in the morning bulletin (and I recorded), so I am very much looking forward to watching that, and feeling the positivity of being part of a movement who are paving the way for greater acceptance and compassion, so that no one with a mental health problem has to live it alone.
Happy mental health day to you all! and if you are not happy today because of your mental health, I feel your pain, as I’m feeling it too.
It is ok to be not ok X
[And not just on world mental health day].