Monday, February 4, 2013

On Mental Health

It’s 2013. My experience with Mental Health Awareness over the past year and a half has shown me a few things, which I feel are worth highlighting. This will not be pleasant for everyone reading, but this is important for everyone. That’s Mental Health in a nut-shell.

The first thing I can point out is obvious: many, if not most, people feel uncomfortable talking about Mental Health. Of these, a majority will struggle to address depression or suicide openly. In Ireland, and around the world, these topics are taboo, linked with harsh stigmas and stereotypes. The end result is a crushing silence, like a wave of black water crashing around the sufferers of mental illnesses; there is no hope to see nor kind word to hear for as long as people misunderstand and refuse to listen. There is no way out of the suffering.

Seem bleak? I’m only getting started.

It is common that people will debate the idea that any form of mental illness will affect them in any way. This includes through other people. As such, they believe knowing about it is of no use to them.

So let’s clarify: anyone can become subject to the effects of mental illness, and everyone has a responsibility to be open to learning about Mental Health. Why? Because anyone can be affected, and anyone could be needed. Anyone. Not just a doctor, or a priest, or a qualified professional. Anyone could find themselves having difficulty with someone who has had a month’s worth of bad days. Anyone could find themselves helpless to watch as someone threatens to take their own life. Literally anyone could find themselves in a situation that, if they don’t listen, if they aren’t willing to learn, they will not be able to manage.

Very few people know if they are depressed, if someone else is depressed, or why someone with depression might find the flippant use of the word ignorant and/or insulting. There is no way for anyone to understand, without experiencing depression themselves, except that the effects of depression are not short-term (i.e. a couple of days) or easy to express. There is a pain to the sadness that can be brought about by depression, by the anxiety that accompanies it, and by the desperation that clings to sufferers as they attempt to find a way out.

Worse still, there are many who don’t know any other way out of the suffering by suicide. This becomes even more problematic the stronger the stigma attached to suicide is in any given society. How does someone talk about thoughts of suicide in a society that will not listen and does not understand? The simple answer: they don’t, because they can’t. Have you ever wondered by the rates of suicide are so high?

What do you say to someone who is feeling suicidal? There aren’t many people who know that to say, how to respond, what to do, or how to temper their reactions. Yes, shock is allowed. Disgust should be reserved. Anger should be avoided completely. Pity is acceptable, if it comes with a willingness to listen, and without patronisation. The whole scope of human emotion makes this a complication subject. There aren’t many who know what to do when faced with thoughts of suicide in another person.

And finally, for now, there appears to be a gap in the knowledge about the actual existence of Mental Health. During a talk on awareness, I was asked a simple but significant question, ‘What is Mental Health?’

I’m not a doctor. I’m not a counsellor. But I have studied, and continue to study, in these areas. I care. And this year, I want to make a difference in this area. Consider this the first public announcement of a project that could very well change my life forever. More importantly, it could save someone else’s.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, to make sure everything is ready to launch later in the year. In the meantime, the first step comes down to you: talk about Mental Health.

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