As usual, I had an overly-ambitious idea of what this holiday period would be like – full of library study sessions, frequent meetups with friends, and hopefully some reading for pleasure on the side. Unfortunately though, the suitcase full of books I brought back home from uni with me remains completely untouched, and all of my high hopes left surrendered early on, in the wake of a turn for the worse in my mental health.
It’s a personal thing to talk about, but with years of experience in talking to mental health professionals and attempting to access the right services, the importance of opening up about mental health is increasingly more evident to me – and I don’t just mean for my sake, but for the sake of mentally ill people nationwide.
It is true that I, personally, struggle with talking about the ways in which my mind works against me, or allowing myself to exhibit symptoms to even the people I am closest to. I am functional on the face of it all, and, beyond that, I seem to thrive. My illness stays firmly in my head, gathering steam, until I am alone – or, in the case of this Easter holiday, until I have a month of time to kill – during which time I am paralysed, destructive, unmotivated, and the list goes on.
This right here is a learnt behaviour, and one that has been taught not only to me, but also to countless others, by the limitations of mental health services and the stigma surrounding mental illness in this country.
For example, the most frequent advice I have received, from professionals and non-professionals alike, is to think positively and put on a brave face, as though my mind doesn’t prevent the rest from falling into place off the back of this. But to have that attitude pushed on you makes it feel as though, if it doesn’t work, you’re not trying hard enough, encouraging you to try to force it until it becomes a habit.
What people don’t realise though, is that under that stoic façade is a dangerously suppressed set of damaging symptoms, alongside a growing understanding that the available mental health services really have little else to offer you. Because why bother reaching out if ignorance is so widespread as to exist in the professional framework put in place to help you?
Our National Health Service has little to offer, and is granted little opportunity to offer more. What it does have available serves mainly to perpetuate an already pervasive idea that a mentally ill person is in full control of how their mind functions, creating an environment which forces people to internalise their difficulties, sometimes even up to the point that the only option available to them then is the complete opposite extreme of hospitalisation.
The truth seems so clear to me; that, for many people, a leaflet about depression, talking therapies based on textbook symptoms, and some medication thrown at you isn’t going to cut it, and the extreme step of being hospitalised just isn’t necessary. But disturbingly, we are taught that, unless you are mildly ill or extremely severe, that we just have to get on with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of how society as a whole has made huge steps in recent years. The issue is being talked about, awareness is being raised, and progress does seem to be appearing on the horizon. Sadly though, as it stands at the moment, there are countless people existing with very severe, damaging illnesses, with nowhere to turn, no incentive to open up, and subsequently, a very scary future ahead.
Aiden Alexander Wynn
(Image courtesy of The Politicus)