I have lived with mental illness for most of my life. In the last few years the diagnoses have been made to confirm my specific conditions and needs. Today is “Time to Talk” day and we are all encouraged to break the taboos of speaking about mental health for just five minutes – so here’s mine.
As you walk down the street you pass all those people on the pavement, stand beside them in queues and speak to them in the corridor at work as you go to the office, each and every one of them will know someone with or be someone with a mental illness. The problem is many don’t know they do because it is not spoken about openly . We can ask people to sign our casts for broken limbs but to spend just five minutes speaking to someone we know really well about the way we are feeling is impossible.
We talk proudly about fighting and beating illnesses like Cancer yet to admit depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, post natal depression and other mental illnesses is frowned upon. Why do I think it happens? We don’t want to be seen as weak. Think how competitive the workplace or school yard can be and any sign of an advantage can be taken by someone else over you – but that’s completely wrong. To stand up and say you’re living with a mental illness makes you stronger in many ways.
As with my annual cancer check ups, to ensure that hasn’t returned, I also go to Cornhill every three to four months to speak about how I’m feeling and whether we need to do anything with my medication. I am stronger and more confident in myself because I know that I am being looked after, protected and supported by the NHS on both counts. The problems don’t just go away, I still have to deal with days that go beyond the usual boundaries my meds can help me with. I might find myself in a real low struggling to get out of bed, feelings of worthlessness and a negative view of the world around me – on the other hand it might be that I have too much energy and my mind is firing off too quickly for me to keep my mouth in check or to qualify my behaviour. Either way I have a support system in place that I can turn.
What do you have? What about those people you pass on the street? Or in the corridor at work? Are they getting the help they need? One in four people every year will be living with/fighting/coping with/however you want to phrase it being mentally ill. That’s 15 million people every year in the UK. You do know people who are ill, but do you know how to help them?
There are numerous websites out there that you can read up on to find out what these illnesses are – in the same way as you might do for a physical illness. But what I and my fellow loonies really need is support and understanding. I won’t always be “fine” or “normal” and those around me accept that because I speak about it. Everyone that matters – and others who don’t – know what I struggle with. If you are in the same boat you need to share that story to help yourself get better. Bottling it up is not the answer and for many the issue will not just go away.
In the past GPs might have been more dismissive, but they and the wider public are more savvy now and will be understanding. As will workplaces – by law they have to help you and support you and for some people just sharing the pain will lead to a better relationship with work, friends and family.
You should never feel embarrassed because you are ill. If you were told that having the cold was something that shouldn’t be spoken about, then Facebook would be half empty. I’m not saying we all need to be as loud and in your face about it as I am, but you have a right to be listened to if you are living with mental illness yourself or living with someone else who has it.
Help and support exists; just ask.