I wish people talked about mental health the way they talk about physical illness
‘You could just get out of bed, you know’
Having suffered with various mental health conditions, namely the hefty combination of depression and anxiety disorders, I have sometimes had to take ‘breaks’ from education, work and my social life. Unfortunately, despite between four to 10 per cent of people in the UK experiencing depression in their lifetime, mental health conditions continue to face huge stigmatisation, especially when it comes to how disabling and acutely difficult they can be. In my experience, people assume they are in someway less ‘real’ than experiencing physical illness.
So, to highlight the differences between how people view physical and mental illness, I have looked at some of the ways I’ve been spoken to about my conditions and have reimagined them in the scope of “real, hardcore” physical illness. When you apply the way mental health illnesses are spoken about, to physical illness like flu, you can see how, sadly, there is still a great deal of ignorance surrounding these conditions.
‘You could just stop being lazy, and try getting out of bed. It will make you feel better’
Can you imagine saying this to somebody who was bed-ridden with the flu? For anyone who has had a mental health condition, specifically depression or anxiety, you will understand just how infuriating it is when people say this to you. I hate to break the news, but having depression wasn’t actually something I chose. It’s a chemical imbalance in my brain.
People suffering from mental health illnesses are not being lazy or anti social. Conditions such as anxiety and depression disorders can leave individuals feeling completely drained and incapable of even walking. Sometimes people find it physically impossible to leave their bed. If you wouldn’t tell somebody with glandular fever to “get out of bed”, then you probably shouldn’t say it to somebody with a mental health condition either.
‘Maybe just try, you know, not worrying for a while?’
If I was given food for every time someone has said this to me about my anxiety, I’d literally be a whale. It’s so easy to assume that something as seemingly invisible as a mental health illness, can be controlled by the sufferer. The fact of the matter is – when you have depression or anxiety, you cannot simply ‘stop’ feeling the way you’re feeling.
Of course medication and therapy can help, but what’s certainly not helpful is somebody telling us we should stop feeling the way we’re feeling. This isn’t a stomach bug, or being overly dramatic. If you wouldn’t tell somebody with a broken leg to stop feeling the way they’re feeling – in pain – then don’t tell somebody suffering with a mental health condition.
‘It’s like you’re not even trying’
Trust me, there is nothing we want more than to recover and feel well again. Just like when somebody has a physical illness, recovery is subjective and can take a long time. Chances are, we are trying. We are probably trying far more than you can tell, because for us, sometimes even something as minuscule as showering can feel like the most overwhelming of tasks. Please do not mistake our fatigue and lack of energy as apathy and rudeness. I highly doubt somebody with chicken pox would be told they ‘weren’t trying hard enough’ to get better.
‘But, everyone gets sad and worried sometimes. That’s normal’
This is very very true. Human beings inherently fluctuate in moods. It’s 100 per cent normal to have ‘low’ days and days where you feel a little more anxious than usual. But mental health conditions cause you to feel disproportionate levels of despair and worry and they can sometimes cause suicidal thoughts. So, yes, it is completely normal to feel a little bit down sometimes. But that is vastly different to having a diagnosed chemical imbalance in your brain and body, which ‘invisibly’ affects your entire world.
‘There are people who are SO much worse off than you’
Once again, this is NOT helpful, in anyway shape or form. I don’t believe that this kind of thing would be told to somebody who was suffering with severe physical illness. So why is it suddenly OK to say it to someone, simply because you cannot visibly ‘see’ their illness? Trying to make people with mental health illnesses ‘realise’ their ‘privilege’, only makes the huge amount of guilt they already feel (for no reason) a thousand times worse.
I cannot stress how important it is to actually see mental health illnesses as exactly that: illnesses. They carry with them a high mortality rate, so we need to start viewing them as real, life threatening illnesses, instead of conditions that are easily controlled or stopped.