I Don't Think I Understand Mental Health - And That's A Bad Thing

Anonymous || August 22nd

Someone I love has just tried to kill themselves, it’s sent shockwaves through our family and friend groups, we’re each struggling to formulate our own response to it. This is on top of a family member actually killing themselves last year. Through both of these incidents I have realised - something I was already certain of - that mental health is not something I understand very well. This is not to say I’m heartless or a sociopath, far from it, I believe myself to be a very rounded individual, great in a crisis and supportive all the way, but when it comes to mental health ability to offer support, I’m seriously lacking. 

I’ve tried to figure out why I am this way. Is it that I believe I’m better, because I don’t suffer from the issues some of my peers do, and therefore I’ve let that supposed superiority cloud my ability to understand them? That sounds vile - maybe that’s me? My instinct is to go for the ‘chin up’ response, but would you tell someone who had just lost an arm to ‘chin up and move on’? You wouldn’t, you’d work with them to find viable solutions to the new challenges life presents. 

I believe a large part of the problem is that our society, a capitalistic western European society, places the success of the individual as a key social value. The idea that an individual is hindered from success by something intangible in their own head doesn’t sit well our social norms. We believe they are weaker, of less value to society due to their illness, we demonise them without even knowing it. The irony being that mental illness makes no distinction between class, race, ability or gender, some of the most successful people in the country (if we use high paid jobs, influence over society and achievement as the measure of success) are as likely to suffer as much as anyone else. 

The stigma is a harsh one to be branded with, we paint a path from A to B and put so much focus on point B, the point of cure, the point where the problem doesn’t exist anymore. But that’s impossible, these things, even if subdued for the rest of a person’s life, will never be erased. We are pushing away from the age of stigma, slowly but with greater progress than previous generations have made, but we still have a long way to go before mental health is not the elephant in the room and its sufferers viewed with pity, scepticism and, sometimes, scorn. 

Through my twenties I have assessed how I act, the decisions I make and am well aware I show the certain aspects of my personality that could be seen as mental health issues. Paranoia, a lack of empathy, a fear of being unsuccessful, anger issues and nihilistic dips - I think it’s called the human condition and therefore I would not class myself as having a mental health illness. Even facing those nihilistic dips I have never reached the bleak depths that my loved ones did, I can’t imagine giving even a second’s worth of consideration to the idea of ending my life - it breaks my heart that it came to that for them. 

More than ever we need to place a focus on getting people the right support, which will inevitably be professional support services and trained individuals. We need to break taboos down and praise people for coming out and speaking about their illnesses. Hopefully this way we can get to people before they make a dangerous decision that could lead to self harm or worse. Perhaps if we taught how to acknowledge and respond to the initial signs of depression, anxiety and mental trauma the same way sex education is taught in the latter years of primary school we’d have adults more equipped to supporting their friends. 

I am so thankful my loved one is still here and that I will be able to learn from their response and reactions to what’s happened how to better support people with mental health issues.