Today has been Mental Health Awareness Day and there are lots of nice posts going around that are useful or informative or comforting. They make me think about a lot of stuff.
What you’ll read below is more a collection of slightly uncomfortable musings than a coherently constructed reflection on mental health awareness and the issues arising from it. But still, I think maybe some of it is helpful…
1. Talking about mental health is a lot less awkward than talking about mental illness
Contrary to popular commentary, I think we’re getting okay about talking about ‘mental health’. Like, how we should talk about our feelings and listen to/make time for others, and all the things we can do to help keep ourselves mentally healthy, from exercise to mindfulness.
But I read a tweet the other day and thought ‘yeah, this.’
If you’re talking about something you’ve gotten over stoically or heroically it’s okay. It’s also okay if you’re talking about it in the abstract, or if you’re talking about ‘feeling down’ – we can cope with those things. It’s harder to say stuff like ‘everything is a struggle and I can’t see how it’ll get better’ or ‘I wake up every morning with an almost paralysing fear of the day head pressing down on me’. That’s still awkward, isn’t it. Even worse, admitting you take mood-regulating medication… erm… #NutterAlert*
2. Sometimes people get poorly
There are lots of things you can do to care for yourself but, just like with physical health, mental illness can’t always be prevented, even with all the exercise and good vibes in the world. Sometimes we need professional help.
3. Sometimes it’s a one off
Some people have a mental health episode just once and it’s often triggered by a life event/trauma. For them it may be like breaking a limb; immediately debilitating, slow to recover from and perhaps leaving a scar or slight weakness that needs to be kept in mind.
4. It can be a chronic illness
For some people depression/anxiety/psychosis is a chronic illness, something they have to manage daily, that makes them poorly periodically and something they fear flaring up every time they fell a bit wobbly.
5. There’s a difference between thinking about suicide and being suicidal
I can say with a strong degree of certainty that you know several people who regularly think about suicide. There’s probably someone you know who totally has their shit together who thinks about suicide several times a day. These thoughts are just something they have learned to live with, like the ache from a dodgy joint; not life threatening, but tiring and really not nice.
(if you are one of these people, you’re really more normal than you think but that doesn’t mean it does suck, try not to worry too much, thoughts only have the power we give them, hang in there, and talk to someone if you can.)
6. Sometimes we need medicine
Anti-depressants are just medicine, they aren’t a ‘crutch’ Yes, like everything else they aren’t right for everyone, have side effects and sometimes they get wrongly prescribed, but they also save lives. Goodness knows how many.
Depressives can manage their condition with things like exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness and talking therapies, but for many our brain chemistry just needs a constant bit of help in staying not-mad.
7. You don’t HAVE to get ‘off your meds’
There is a certain pressure to get off anti-depressants or any mental illness medication; it is a goal to which people like me feel they should aspire. And it’s a goal that can make some of us feel like shitty failures. Sad but true.
Think diabetics and insulin; there are lots of things diabetics can do to manage their condition but even with all those things in place you would never expect someone to ‘get themselves off the insulin’. If your depression is a chronic illness then the same thing applies. Coming off your meds because ‘it’s about time’ or others think you should is potentially dangerous.
Anti-depressants saved my life, and continue to in my opinion, I can’t stand how they’re talked about and lamented so often by all sorts of ‘woke’ people.
8. People die of mental illness
How different would things be if you when someone with a long history of mental illness died at their own hand we said ‘she died of depression/bipolar disorder’ instead of ‘she committed suicide’. I know not all suicides can’t be explained in this way, but many could.
I have never heard anyone say that someone died of depression, or anxiety, or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder or anything like that. But they do, every day, and maybe if we start saying it then the ‘parity of care’ might come a step closer.
*chill out, I take mood regulating medication, read on my friend