World Mental Health Day 2011

If you suffer from mental health problems, how open are you about them to your friends and family? Those of us that blog and comment here in the online community that has come to be known as the Madosphere write candidly and in detail about our mental illnesses – but is this translated into our so-called real-lives?

For a long time, in my case, it wasn’t. I maintained a façade, where possible at least, that I was still a contentedly functioning member of the rat race, as sane as anyone else that has a similar way of life (albeit, perhaps, a little more cynical!).

Even when I became rather more open about having experienced, and about my experiencing, severe depression, I still withheld information from most people regarding the multitude of ways in which the other facets of my madness manifested. I tried to avoid mention of psychosis, dissociation and mixed episodes. I would certainly not reveal anything about the main issue that led to my having developed complex PTSD.

And as far as the latter goes, I doubt that I ever will – but that’s because it will ruin the lives of others, and there’s only one of them that even comes close to deserving that. However, the symptoms that I habitually experience are not going to directly impact upon most individuals – other than those that, due to their proximity to the situation, already know about and have seen frequent examples of the crazies anyway.

So one day, I thought, “fuck it. What am I hiding from? It’s me that has to endure this, and if others can’t deal with my reality, that’s their issue. I’m just going to be honest.” And I was. And I am.

The voices and visions, the amnesia, the GCHQ and other paranoias, the fugues, the simultaneous hysterical laughter and despairing tears. I’ve ‘fessed up to it all, and much more besides. Granted, it’s rare that anyone actually asks about specifics – but when they do, I tell them the whole truth.

If they choose to deride, stigmatise and make false assumptions based on erroneous and sensationalised information, then I correct their misguidedness. Most people mean well, I think, but are understandably apprehensive, thanks to the way our culture has demonised mental health trouble and attempted to brush all references thereto under the carpet. All you can do is to try and separate myth from fact, and show that despite ‘having issues’, you are still essentially ordinary. In my experience, people are more tolerant and accepting than you might originally think.

Of course, there are some who are truly disdainful of mentalness and will not be persuaded that you are not a knife-wielding freak, hell-bent on sadistically torturing everyone that crosses your path, no matter how much evidence you show them or normality you personally exhibit in their company. If people elect to maintain positions such as this, based only on moral panics, media sensationalism, and wilful ignorance, then I don’t need them in my life. Fuck them.

Yes, it sounds so easy written down here in nice, black-and-white words, and of course it’s not in practice. However, if you have a long-term mental health problem, there will probably come a time when you face a similar scenario: keep hiding behind an overpowering wall of shame to which you feel undeservedly bound, or break free of it, realising that you’re tired of the pretence, that you deserve better, and that you have nothing for which to be sorry.

You are not some sort of fucked-up, freakish aberration because you have a mental health difficulty. Some statistics state that the incidence of same is one in four in an average lifetime – I’ve read reports that dispute that, but regardless: the point is that the chances of experiencing mental ill health at least at some juncture are reasonably high.

How many people do you know – in general and overall? Even if we dismiss the one in four statistic and, for the sake of argument, adopt a much more conservative estimate of a lifetime prevalence of mental illness at a mere one in 10…well, anyone who’s ever studied, worked or even been part of an extended family is bound to know someone (else) with mentalist issues.

So why do we silence ourselves so? Do we do so in consideration of cancer or diabetes or migraines? Of course not, nor should we. But why are physical maladies considered the more acceptable relatives of mental ones, when the latter are arguably just as common? And how can an unconsciously ignorant society learn, en masse, that mental health problems rarely resemble the over-blown melodrama perpetrated by biased reporting and established stereotypes…unless we speak up to contradict them?

Of course, there are times when such honesty can destroy opportunities such as job interviews, the development of potential new friendships or partnerships, whatever. It may not always be possible to admit that you’re mental, and this is not a condemnation of people who choose not to be widely open about their conditions. I just wonder how we can eradicate stigma for good unless we have an open dialogue in public around issues of mental health, illness and recovery.

No where has this been better underlined to me than in this post by Lori at Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum. Lori’s husband, after a brief but serious psychosis, hanged himself in front of his wife and baby daughter.

In the linked post, she discusses her speech at his funeral. Had he spoken up, she wondered aloud, could he have been treated?

I can say nothing more prescient and eloquent than what Lori already has. If you are experiencing mental distress, if it’s too much to cope with, if you feel you have nowhere to turn – you do. Speak. Please, on this – World Mental Health Day – at least consider speaking up to help raise awareness of mental health problems. In a small but important way, you could well be helping millions of others that suffer in silence, and indeed yourself, when you speak.


5 thoughts on “World Mental Health Day 2011

  1. Been a while since I last commented here, I’ve been reading but not really committed to commenting for one reason or another.


    I’m willing to talk to people about my mental health stuff but only if I feel a little comfortable (see my book coming to Amazon soon – shameful plug but what the hell). I’ll admit that I’ve witnessed a few of the harsh views but not spoken up to the correct them. More fool me I guess. However, the vast majority understand and will actually identify with someone else they know. So I think people shouldn’t hide so much, but then I’m well known for being weird and so people accept that it’s what I do.

    I dunno. World Mental Health Day has just seemed to be another day n the life of as it were. I want to do something but never know what. Perhaps I should stick to my strengths. Anyone want free hosting for a blog etc? Including domain name? Just a thought.

    Ok, bit random, but in summary (because not much of what has gone before made sense) I agree with you 100% Pan, although being the angry person I am (see the book – ha, another cheeky plug) would say that you should confront those who have done wrong and let things go where they go. Just my opinion, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.


  2. Perfectly put Pan- thank you!

    I ran into difficulties at work when I had to go off depressed- everyone knew when I went back why I’d been off and some were _really_ uncomfortable with it. It was horrible and I wish my boss hadn’t told everyone (surely a brech of confidentiality?!!!)- but that said they cane round and I’d rather have been honest. As you say how else can we break down barriers?

    Anyway thanks for this post as ever Pan.

    Best wishes

  3. Pan, I have always admired your openess on this blog regarding your personal experiences and the effects of them on your mental health. You have raised such awareness about so many subjects and gained so many accolades of which you should be very proud. Im glad you have been able to share some stuff in the real world. Me- Im a coward. I worry so much about what people think of me anyway without giving them more ammo. This is coming from a person who would normally tell her lifestory to anyone who will listen. I am very open but here are some of the responses Ive got. “What have you got to be depressed about?”- my dad. “You? Depressed?”- a member of my church. In work when I suffered PND I think they thought I was working the system but were full of advice when depression reoccurred after my husband’s illness. They know I see a counsellor but very few know its a clinical psychologist. I really wish I could speak out more but although there are more understanding people out there, there is still stigma and everyone is put together in the same basket under the umbrella of mental.
    Thank you for showing such courage ❤ xxx

  4. Wow, this is a good entry. I’m reading in your blog occasionally, and just stumbled accross this, and it really fits.
    I have complex PTSD too, the shrink who did the diagnosis supected a personality disorder, my current therapist says I got a borderline personality structure. And only yesterday I got a nice, glossy magazine – I’m studying theology and hope to work in pastoral care one day, so I’ve been recently admitted to the “eclusive” club of people who study with the approval of my church and the understanding that one day I will work for them. The magazine had an editorial from the guy with whom I had my admissions interview for that group. In that interview, he hadn’t asked a single question about my mental health (I had expected to be asked, and would have told him the truth). But in this editorial he writes that people with serious personality problems eg. on the “borderline spectrum” should not be admitted to study for the church!
    This is very annoying for me, and only the prelude to the point I want to make: Today I had lunch with some colleagues from uni. And complained about that article, and that accourding to that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the group, but that I wasn’t asked any questions in the interview. BUT I did this all without mentioning the reason. If they have read/will read the article it they can probably guess that this is about my mental health – but I didn’t dare to say it. They are all rather friendly people, so maybe I should be more open…
    Sorry for being so long, thanks for that post!

  5. Pingback: Have you told people how you feel? « ednosramblings

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