Mental Health is Nothing like Santa Claus
HELEN THOMPSON wants people to talk. About anxiety, depression and bear attacks.
“Depression? Isn’t that a fancy word for ‘bummed out’?”
“Dwight, you ignorant slut!”
This will forever be my first reference when talking about mental health.
Sure, it’s a scene from the American Office and a shameless plug for my forthcoming Office-appreciation column (I’m sure The Tab will be commissioning it any day now….). But it sums up the modern-day attitude towards mental health pretty well.
We have a habit of burying our heads in the sand, pretending these problems don’t exist or that they aren’t nearly as bad as they are. Maybe it’s all down to a fear of what isn’t immediately visible. I mean, there’s nothing obviously wrong with you – your leg isn’t dangling off your body, you still have all your teeth and your face hasn’t ravaged by a savage bear… What could possibly be the matter?
Long have I been told that I am simply ‘overreacting’, that I need to stop being so ‘overdramatic’ and just ‘get on with it’. You’re not depressed, you’re just having a bad day. You don’t have anxiety, you’re just a worrier by nature. Don’t be silly, of course you don’t have OCD, you’re just a perfectionist.
So let’s make this clear: Anorexia is not the Easter Bunny. OCD is nothing like Santa Claus and Depression bears no resemblance to the Loch Ness Monster. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Mental illness is real and it’s serious, affecting more people than we perhaps realise. It’s actually pretty common: it’s estimated that one in five of us will suffer with a mental health problem at some point in our lives. And almost all of us will know someone who does.
Like racism, the Nazis and the fact that I really wish I could farm my own llamas, mental health is a topic of conversation that often results in awkward silence, stifled coughs and shuffling feet. It’s been suggested that this might be down to people being afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of making the problem somehow worse.
But mental health sufferers are still people; it seems quite unlikely that I am going to respond to your delicately-placed and well-intentioned questions with the squawking sounds, running in circles and impulsive public stripping that some seem to expect of me. Those stereotypical unhinged reactions that many people associate with mental disorders are just that: stereotypical.
I very much doubt that you’re going to worsen the situation. Unless, of course, you are in the habit of routinely and unthinking telling people that they should go walk under a bus, that nobody would ever miss them and that they need to lose weight to justify their existence. (If you do do this, I would suggest it’s you who’s got the problem.)
Surely acknowledging these problems and their increasing presence in our society is preferable to the current culture. At the moment, everyday conversation is littered with casual references to mental health. We somehow manage to both trivalise and marginalise the issue.
Yes, I am sure that you are depressed because Chelsea lost the game last night. I hear you want to slit your wrists because you missed the bus. Oh, that’s great that you’re going to stop eating food altogether so that you can look good in a bikini. Good for you.
Admitting ignorance and asking for understanding is better than pretending you already know it all and are above it. If I had a penny for everyone who has ever told me to ‘just cheer up’, I would be a very rich woman indeed. Yet no one would ever suggest to a man with a broken leg that he ‘walk it off.’ No, because that would be a bit silly, wouldn’t it?
Mental Health Awareness week is an annual event to try to tackle these social problems. This year, anxiety is taking centre stage. From 12th-18th May, The Tab will be bringing you a series of four articles concerning mental health and its impact on our everyday lives.
They say that the best way to raise awareness and remove the stigma is to talk about it. So let’s talk.