WARNING THIS POST CONTAINS EMOTIONAL CONTENT
A common topic of conversation within the mental health community is that of how people just do not understand us, how it is so much easier to talk to others who suffer. I fully understand this sentiment, I have received tremendous support from my little community. However it is easy to type, easy to open up to a screen but it does lend to a real risk of social isolation.
I know that when I speak to someone online that it is a real person on the other end, I never question their experience, who would lie? In this closed community though there is a feeling of us and them, those who suffer and those who do not. We are a bit selfish because many of us, including myself, are guilty of excluding people because “they don’t know”. We are very quick to point out that saying the wrong things is often more damaging to us than saying nothing, but just as we are given little guidance neither are they.
The problem with mental illness is that we have spent so long first lying to ourselves, then lying on the outside that we easily become self-absorbed. By the time the symptoms start to show, they are often misinterpreted as laziness, coldness, aggression. None of these things are unique to a mental illness, everyone can become lazy and dissatisfied with work, relationships or a part of their life. So whilst we are desperately trying to disguise the cause of these spill over signals, it is easy to understand how we can be labelled and treated by those who see them as something we are not.
This kind of treatment is not processed by us as it is intended, we take it on-board and add this reclassification of our social standing to our existing problem. We withdraw and isolate ourselves more, we start to look at the world as treating us badly. Soon we find ourselves being asked to explain ourselves and our actions, “why have you been late for work three times this week?”, “why are you not coming out tonight you boring so and so”. We offer up more excuses and lies to hide the truth, we can’t speak out about our feelings because who would understand?.
So we find ourselves on forums and chat sites looking for answers, looking for comfort. We find if we are lucky others who understand, those who help us start to face what is happening but not the cause. Once in this environment it is easy to come across the us and them attitude, we have already seen it and hearing it from others only goes to reinforcing our attitude that those who were close to us just would not understand. So we vent, we walk with our own crowd and feel a bit better.
We might even start to seek help from the system, suddenly we stump those close to us because why would we need anti depressant pills? “what the hell is wrong with you?”, “why didn’t you tell me?”. You stop and look at them and all your inner turmoil churns through your head and start and finish blur. How do you tell them? In fact what can you tell them, you probably don’t really know yourself. So you stutter some explanation which probably makes no real sense, you go into survival mode and make light of it.
For one second just imagine yourself stood opposite yourself, opposite someone you care for and not being able to understand them. Imagine standing opposite someone you love and know that they are lying to you, keeping a secret from you. You feel hurt, you feel useless and maybe a bit angry. What happened to the person you knew? what are they not telling you?. They may start with the helpful comments, “hey, don’t worry your fine”. There is no handbook that comes with the pills, all you get is a list of side effects in six languages.
In this day and age its likely that the majority of people have undertaken some form of basic first aid, we all know how to do CPR, we all know to keep pressure on a wound but I have yet to have been taught how to help someone with depression. Those that suffer are often clueless in how to help themselves, the lucky ones learn how to manage their symptoms, the really lucky ones might even receive some therapy to address the real issue. For many however they take the pills, which often actually make them feel worse. So the spiral continues, the divide gets bigger, the situation becomes unliveable, the bomb starts ticking.
If you look at the statistics most mental illness has already started early in life, in fact many young people are now living the best years of their lives with this monster slowly growing inside them. The system is great at giving us more and more labels for these things but where is the information on how to deal with it? Why are those most vulnerable, those going through one of the hardest periods of their lives not being taught practical things like how to spot this monster. Why are they not receiving training in how to spot problems in themselves and others? why are they not being given information on how to cope, what to do, who to tell?.
I thing that for one hour a week rather than making papier-mâché teapots why can we not be teaching our young about how to look after themselves, both mentally and physically. Why can we not have every eighteen year old leaving school with a knowledge of first aid, so that they can fulfil one of the most important moral obligations of life. Life is precious and today it is so fast paced and frantic there is more need than ever before to learn to help others. Learning to save a life has got to be more important than anything else surely? Never mind the effect it would have on health services if people were more able to help themselves. Start now and by 2020 we could change the world, save lives and just possibly by learning compassion and empathy even change attitudes. How hard would it be to add this to the curriculum? Reading and writing may be important, maths and science a must. Though let us be honest, they are no use to the dead are they.