As promised at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve been amassing the thoughts of readers and, although the quantity perhaps isn’t what I’d hoped it would be, the quality is superb. I have four separate statements from four very unique individuals with different stories to tell and different mental health struggles to deal with.
In no particular order, here they are:
Kira, 36, USA
“Up to roughly six years ago, I had little to no knowledge of mental health issues. I had no reason to. But then, my sister started having conversations with people who were not there. She would daze out for minutes while in the middle of a conversation with you, talk to people that she said were ghosts or spirit guides. She claims she is psychic and a medium and a dream realm protector of certain celebrities; but I have seen no evidence of such. I tend not to be a great believer of those things anyway. If it didn’t affect the level of her ability to function as an adult should, I would just call her “eccentric”. That being said, you would think that getting her help would be an easy task. It is not.
“Every time we attempt to get her to talk to a professional she goes off on a tangent that she has abilities and that she is not crazy and does not need to see anyone or take medication. She is able to hide her ‘off’ behaviour very well. So, she goes undiagnosed. In the state of California, someone has to physically harm themselves or another person to be forcibly committed to receive mental help. It is a blessing that she has not ever become violent or hurt herself directly, but it is difficult knowing she could have a chance at a better life with help.
“What also gets to me is that my mother fully supports her, my toddler nephew, and her ill, aging husband. She works long days and has to come home to their fighting and bickering. I am terrified that she will have a heart attack or a stroke due to the stress of the situation she is in; the situation my sister has her in. Yes, I blame her. I have contempt for her ability to guiltlessly use my mother’s kindness and love and make absolutely no moves to help her or ease her considerable burden. I know it is wrong to feel this way, but it is like a stranger is draining my mother and I can’t stop it.
I help my Mom how I can, apart from taking my sister off her hands. I can’t in my right consciousness bring her back into my home. We tried it for several months and I can’t ask it of my family again. I also live nine hours away, which cuts out my ability to help with smaller tasks.
“So, that is where that situation stays and eats at me.
“My only sibling other than my sister was my brother, who suddenly committed suicide in 2013. The fact of my family’s obvious mental health issues coming to light had me terrified that I may obtain a mental issue/psychosis out of the blue. It was a constant nagging fear that luckily left me after a few months.
“Now I have become the crutch, the one who makes Christmas and other holidays happen for everyone else. The good, stable daughter that my mother doesn’t need to worry about. That is what I can do, aside from listening to my mother’s grievances and not let her know how much it hurts me to listen. She needs the let-off more than I need not to hear it.
“Writing this, I feel that I sound a bit heartless and I have, to be honest, done my best to numb myself to it all. I realize as I’ve gotten older it’s what I do, what I’ve done my whole life, because… I need to survive as well.
“My sister was the reason I made sure to get my daughter help right away when she developed anxiety and depressive problems. I wanted her not to be afraid to get help and know that doctors aren’t there to put you away; they are there to ease your troubles, help you live a happier life. Therapy is a normal thing for her now. It is no secret from anyone, including from her friends. Most of her friends can wholly sympathize as they themselves are dealing with mental issues. I hope that her body will harmonize itself as she gets older. That her hormones stop rearranging her brain and that she will have less and less symptoms. But if that harmonization never happens, I am comforted knowing I have done everything in my power to give her the tools she needs to help herself as an adult; to let her know that it’s perfectly okay to ask for help and to say, ‘I’m not well.'”
Kerry, 32, UK
“Looking after your mental health should be as important to you as considering what to wear every day or what you eat or whether to work out. That we spend so much time (and money) working on our physical appearance, why would we not put that same investment on the health of our minds?
“The importance of counselling too; I am so aware of my own past experiences with eating disorders, rape, child sexual exploitation, etc., and how they influence my behaviour and responses today and patterns in all of my relationships, romantic or otherwise.
“Oh, and pressures of social media lifestyle. I could go on!”
Liz, 40, UK
“I thought that being a mum would be great, magical even. I thought it would complete me. I imagined playing with my child every day, doing crafts, playing hide and seek, teaching abc’s, healthy homecooked meals, baking cakes, etc. I thought being an older mum (38) would make it easier, I’d already established who I am, I know what life is about, I know all about the ifs, buts, and whys. I had a good job, good routine, stable relationship; the only thing I had to worry about was the giving birth part.
“It turns out that the giving birth part was the easy bit. Dealing with post-natal depression was/is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s a daily thing… no, actually, it’s an hour by hour thing. It’s something that comes along, even though you’ve been warned about it, and you think you’d recognise it if you had it. It comes along and steals every bit of magic parenthood has to offer! The love you feel for the baby is still there and still real, but with that comes guilt, fear, anxiety, worthlessness, low self-esteem, anger, and a multitude of emotions.
“For me, I chose to be a stay at home mum as this was more financially viable, but it just added to the depression. Some days can be better than others, some days I get dressed and go out, act as if I have the perfect life; smile, laugh, even have small talk with strangers, take the child on a play date, do the shopping and chores that need doing, prepare healthy meals, run errands, etc. As soon as I get home and that front door closes the relief I feel is immense! Trying to keep a smile on your face is hard work.
“Other days me and the child will not get out of our pyjamas. I won’t answer the door or phone, I sit and cry because ‘Why am I like This?’ ‘Why can’t I be normal?’ ‘Why can’t I have my life back?’ ‘Why did I have to have a baby?’ ‘Why am I thinking this way?’. the house will be a mess, but I don’t care because today the noise in my head is keeping me from doing anything. The noise is sooooooo loud I can’t even hear my child playing or the kids tv. The noise makes me angry. It makes me sad because I can’t actually understand it, but it’s constantly there! Two and a half years on and I’m questioning who I am, what I’m doing, and can I carry on like this. The medication reduces the noise in my head but doesn’t bring back the person I once was. I can only take one day at a time and build a slightly different version of me that I can live with and hopefully grow to love.”
Anon, 29, UK
“We’re in the year 2018 and yet the understanding of mental health is all over the place. Apparently, you have to look mentally ill for people to believe you are. What does a mentally ill person even look like? Hair askew, wild look in the eyes? Anxiety is one of the most common causes of mental health issues and what I suffer from mostly, but I ‘look normal’, so I must be lying…
“I’m a 29-year-old woman and have suffered from anxiety and depression for the past 16 years. Mildly in my younger years, but, as I’ve gotten older, I find I don’t even know who I am anymore, not properly. Am I still that fun-loving girl I once was? Can I still make people laugh? Can I be who I want to be? I feel I could be; she’s deep inside me somewhere, but my fear of being around people I don’t know or groups of people has put “paid to that.
“I had a lot of friends when I was younger; gradually I’ve lost them all. Some through my own choosing, some through their inability to understand. Making plans and being cancelled on must be frustrating, I get that! Why does nobody ask me why or if there’s something wrong? I probably wouldn’t say anyway, but it’d be nice to know people cared enough to ask. I apologised for cancelling, as I find myself apologising for everything over and over. That annoys people, but I need it to be known that I’m sorry, and, when I over think on every situation, I feel the need to apologise again. Even when something is not my fault, I feel guilty and—yeah, you guessed it—go overboard on the apologies.
“I wish somebody, anybody could swap places with me just for an hour. They can put up with my thoughts and maybe I could have a break. A break from the thoughts, a break from the self-doubt, but mainly a break from the darkness. I wish somebody could just see that there is something wrong and be able to ‘fix me’. I guess that entails talking though, and that’s what I’m not good at. How can I admit to somebody what’s going on in my head when I can’t make sense of it myself? I do talk to my partner on occasions about things and he is just the best with it all. He’s put up with such a lot, but it’s not fair to put it all on him, so where do I turn where I won’t be judged?”
Four very unique stories, but with one very substantial link: communication.
Communication, I feel, is the biggest problem facing all people experiencing mental health issues, whether they suffer from them or are suffering as result of somebody else’s.
Why do we struggle to communicate? Once again, it’s that word I’ve used often this month: stigma. In this day and age, with all the empathy and an insane need not to offend anyone, we’re all massively empathetic towards those with physical ailments from cancer, to a bad back; from a missing limb to a common cold. Things are in place for these people to get the help they need; they don’t have to go searching for it and society won’t judge them.
So, why does mental health stigma still exist? Why is it still not 100% socially acceptable that a person suffers from mental illnesses? Why are sufferers still hiding their problems and pretending that there’s nothing wrong for fear of being labelled and judged? Referring once again to the timeline in Stigma & Mental Health, we have come a long way where mental health treatment and legislation is concerned, but we have a long way still to go. Society’s attitude must change! Mental health issues must be treated more seriously across the board: the general public, the media, workplaces. Awareness must be raised. When somebody announces a mental health problem we should treat it with as much empathy as we would somebody saying they have any physical ailment, not a roll of the eyes or uttering terms such as “Oh, cheer up and get on with it!”.
We should use the LGBT movement as an example. They have got in everybody’s face and yelled, “We’re quite happy with who we are, whether you like it or not!” Maybe it’s time people with mental health problems did the same.
Thank you to all of the above contributors and to all who have read and supported the posts this month.