Monday, 26 June 2017

Is talking about mental health really ending the stigma?

We've been talking about mental health for years now.

It's in the media every day. Another personal story, another awareness campaign. It rarely ceases.
It's mainstream now. We’re all familiar with the term.
So what if many people still think it synonymous with mental illness? At least they know about mental health.

It's a cause that has ambassadors.

A-listers are revealing their eating disorders, medication, anxiety and depression in ever increasing numbers.
Amanda Seyfried. Katy Perry. Prince Harry.
They bring a sense of glamour to the usual discussions of mental health.

Even in Ireland it’s been on everyone’s tongues for the past number of years.
We have male sports stars and musicians speaking out specifically to encourage men to get talking about their mental health.
Conor Cusack. Philly McMahon. Bressie.

I've been blogging about mental health for just over three years. And I’ve lost count of the number of Irish mental health bloggers out there.

But is it enough? What has all this talk about mental health got us?
News reports continue to show that we aren't lowering suicide rates. People continue to feel alone, to not ask for help, to self-harm, to die by suicide.

People may be talking about mental health, but that doesn’t mean they care enough to provide it with adequate funding. Mental health services are under resourced. There are not enough of them, not enough staff, and certainly not enough beds. Waiting lists are growing because, while we are encouraging people to seek help for their mental health, we’re not ensuring that ‘the help’ is available to listen.

recent headlines

So are our conversations ending stigma? Are we saying the right things?
When a white man commits an act of terror, we’re told it’s motivated by mental health.  

When Ant McPartlin, one half of the UK’s most famous and award winning TV presenting duo, entered rehab for ‘depression and substance abuse’ he’s told to go get ‘real problems’. 

Britney Spears infamous breakdown in 2007 is still used a slur today. ‘I haven’t shaved my head yet’, said Katy Perry earlier this year. Because she may be mad, but at least she’s not that mad. 

Sinead O’Connor. Amanda Bynes. Kanye West. Their mental health battles are not taken seriously by the media because they don’t fit with our image of a celeb. They should be happy, rich and have it all. 

Sympathy isn’t our first response when we see mental illness. We question motives. Wonder if it’s attention seeking. Tell them their problems aren’t real issues like a physical illness is. There’s no arguing with the severity of a physical illness that you can see after all. 

Shops continue to use mental illness as a joke to sell products. From slogans on Urban Outfitters t-shirts to straitjacket Halloween costumes in Tesco, it takes public outrage rather than common sense to pull these products from stores.

Have we succeeded in anything? 

Sure, I feel less alone seeing mental health in the media and social media. I think, “Great! Now people will understand that it’s real, I didn’t choose this.” 

But that’s not always the reality. I still hear comments reinforcing stigma, mainly regurgitating what the media spews out. I overhear lunchtime conversations saying 'people with mental illness are dangerous' and 'I wanted to hang myself'

If I ask myself that same question as a service user? Well, I still feel alone. I still don’t have access to the care that I need. I still don’t have professional support. If I have a relapse in the morning and find myself in a major depressive episode, I wouldn't know where to turn for help, or even if I ever would get help.

I also ask myself this question as another service user. Perhaps one with schizophrenia. Because unlike me with my diagnoses of anxiety and depression, people with schizophrenia don't see their mental illness openly addressed in the media. While there is greater understanding now of what depression actually is, the same level of coverage isn't given to other mental health problems. There is still a major misunderstanding that schizophrenia involves multiple personalities. The media aren't so quick to clear up these misunderstandings. 

So then, what next for mental health?

Sometimes it's hard not to feel like you're speaking into a vacuum. Especially when the media still play on stigma when it comes to celebrities and crime. Especially when politicians have yet to answer our cries for help.

But that should never mean we stop trying. Conversations around mental health have changed substantially in the past 10 years alone. Who's to say we won't break down more stigma in the next 10 months, yet alone years?
So never stop.
Even when you look around and see how far we have yet to go. Let that be your strength to carry on the war. 

Friday, 23 June 2017

No one expects depression

No one expects depression.

No one expects it in the teen striving for attention.

No one expects it to be high-achieving.

No one expects it to be sitting in a lecture theatre with 200 other people, diligently taking down notes.

No one expects it to be status after status on social media.

No one expects it to be the fast-talking, enthusiastic volunteer.

No one expects it to be at a concert, singing their heart out.

No one expects it to be the one with their whole life ahead of them to look forward to.

No one expects it to be the girl dancing with her friends, taking pictures with drinks in hand.

Or the one with the confidence to hook up with a guy she met on a night out.

No one expects depression to be all consuming but yet still invisible.

No one expects depression to be high-functioning; to be able to leave the bed yet alone the house.

No one expects depression to go unnoticed.

No one expects to be oblivious to their own depression.

No one expects asking for help with depression to get them nowhere.

I didn’t know what I expected depression to be. But it wasn’t this.
It wasn’t the carrying on as normal. The hiding it from friends and family.
I thought depression was noticeable. That there'd be a big warning sign at least internally, if not externally. That I would know what was going on inside my head, and what was wrong with me.
But when I was diagnosed, I was expected to carry on as normal. To stay in the city away from my family. To go to class. To sit my exams.

Where were the straitjackets I was promised on TV? Why wasn’t I lying down, looking serene while at therapy? Why was my madness not visible?

No one expects depression to look normal. But the reality is that it does. There are people with depression waiting in line with you at the coffee shop, getting the same bus to work with you everyday, living in the apartment next door.
You can't tell.
And when it hits you, you weren't expecting the sheer force of the hit. But you're expected to cope, to carry on, to recover.

Mental illness doesn't live up to expectations.
So don't be so quick to leap to conclusions. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Old habits

It’s easy to fall back into old habits.

For me, it’s patterns of thinking. Thinking negative thoughts to be precise.

Somehow, 24-year-old me has found herself stuck back inside the mind of 15-year-old me.

“Everyone hates me”. “She’s been giving me dirty looks all night”. “Why can’t I be more social like everyone else?” "I don't want to do that in front of everyone."

And these thoughts have gripped me with anxiety. Over the past few weeks I’ve lost any small trace of a care-free, easy going attitude I ever had.

I’m paranoid. I’m scared of meeting new people. I’m too shy and awkward to get involved in group conversations. I’m worrying over little thing I’ve said. I’m comparing myself to others. I’ve been going to bed in tears, unable to explain my sudden loss of confidence.

I’ve thought about quitting my blog entirely, deleting it, in fear that someone will use it against me.
And it’s made me feel ill.

What’s happened to me?

I can’t remember when I last felt this hopeless and helpless. It used to everyday, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been trapped by these old habits. And now they’re back with a vengeance.

It’s debilitating not being able to escape your own mind. You can’t switch it off. You can’t even get a good night’s sleep, with your fears and anxieties often plaguing your dreams as well.

I’m sick of feeling insecure, paranoid and like I’m 15 again. I’m sick of caring so much what everyone thinks of me. I’m sick of thinking they all hate me.

But I don’t know how to make it stop. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Out

I’ve been taking some time out from the Blogosphere lately. I’ve needed it.

Life offline has taken some pretty difficult turns over the past two months and brought with it a lot of changes. I’ve needed to focus my attention in the real world, with my family and friends by my side.

I felt guilty about it. Leaving my space on the Internet to gather dust was never my intention. What did I work so hard building it up for if I was to abandon it so suddenly, without excuse?

But it’s what I’ve needed to do to clear my head, get my thoughts in order, and find a way of coping with the obstacles thrown at me.

And why should I feel guilty about that?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Do you have issues?

Ever been asked something so direct that you’re not sure whether to ignore it, answer it honestly, or just downright lie?

Sometimes direct questions need a sure-fire automatic response.

How are you?

Not too bad I say, often feeling the opposite and wishing I didn’t always automatically respond with the same standard answer. Where's my honesty? Why am I saying the same thing over and over without stopping to think about it first and then answering?

Direct questions are often hard to answer. Especially when you have a mental illness.
They are asked every day, multiple times a day, all the time.

How are you?

And often we develop a standard response as a defense mechanism. We don't want to reveal too much, give ourselves away. So we lie.

But this weekend took on a whole new dimension. I was asked a question I haven’t been asked in years. Not since I was at my worst, and clearly I wasn’t doing very well at hiding my worst.

Do you have issues?

Let’s also note that huge emphasis was placed on the ‘you’ here. Just in case I hadn’t realised the personal, insulting meaning of ‘issues’, it was elongated and thrown at me with rage.
But how do we answer a question so direct, so personalised, and so angry?

Do we answer honestly? Yes actually. Many issues. Donald Trump. Theresa May. Oh, and a mental illness or two.

Do we lie? No, I (unlike every other human being in existence) have no issues, thank you very much.

Or do we ignore it? Pretend we didn’t hear. Continue on your conversation in a room full of people, knowing full well that all eyes are currently on you wondering if you will respond.

I did the latter. And I’m angry that I ignored it. I’m annoyed at myself for not sticking up for myself, for not wearing my heart (or in this case, my depression and anxiety) on my sleeve and admitting that yes, I damn well do have issues.

It's hard to answer a personal question you haven't prepared for. It's why I like my stock answer to 'How are you?' so much. I don't need to think, take it in and formulate an answer. I just spit it out and overthink my overuse of those three words afterwards.

Maybe I need to start thinking of standard responses to all kinds of questions now.
Best to be prepared so I don't give too much of myself away. Don't want to be caught shouting Depressed and Anxious from any rooftops by accident.

Do you have issues?

Yes, but it's none of your business and I'm not sure how you expect me to answer such a stupid, rude question.