There is a secret; one that nobody is prepared to talk about; one so shocking it may bring down society as we know it. Am I talking about a scandal, or some sort of political corruption? Am I talking about some secret society that quietly rules over us, or perhaps I am talking about the fact we are all lizard people. While I would infinitely prefer to talk about any one of these things, I am in fact talking about the truth that, literally, nobody is talking about. I am talking about the fact that people with mental illness walk among us.
I hear your gasps and sighs; “not this again,” “haven’t we already talked about this?” and trust me I hear you. In essence you are right; people with mental illness are no longer labelled as “crazy” or “psychos” and that’s great, it really is, but the sad truth is, we’re not being talked about as real people either. We are not seen as human beings, who happen to have various conditions, but we are in fact seen as the embodiment of the conditions themselves. I suffer with bipolar and yet many people feel obliged to tell me that I “am” bipolar. How would you feel if I said that you “were” varicose veins, or you “were” diabetes?
The fact is that people with mental illness are not often talked about badly anymore, it seems we are just, quite simply, not talked about, not in any meaningful way anyway. I see people putting up posts on my Facebook all the time, with one off little comments on how they’ve struggled, and that’s great – more power to them, but these are just fleeting moments of support, that quickly fizzle and burn out. There is no substance to them.
More and more people are talking to their families about mental illness, which is amazing, but let’s be honest, would you tell your work colleagues or your footy friends?
Then there are the types of illnesses that we talk about. While we are all greatly aware that there are people with anxiety or depression out there, it appears that illnesses like psychotic illnesses i.e. eating disorders and personality disorders are to be exempt from this feeling of understanding and tolerance. It shocks me, that even in 2018, the only time I read about these types of illnesses are either in sensationalist articles or articles about violence and murder. Many celebrities are willing to come forward in support of anxiety and depression, but only a handful will come forward to support “unpopular” illnesses.
And that’s another point, do celebrity endorsements really help? While it gets the word out there and spreads the message of tolerance, it also makes mental illness seem a far-off thing, only to be worried about by the rich and famous who don’t really walk among us. Well, they do.
Then there are the prejudices of mental health services themselves. Having suffered with an eating disorder, I can tell you that it isn’t all about weight. Yet eating disorder services have to give out resources on, guess what, weight criteria, leaving anyone who isn’t severely underweight feeling lost and abandoned.
I’m not saying that we’re not talking at all. Some people with mental illness are proactive in getting the word out there, but many are afraid to, out of fear and stigma. Maybe if we talked more, we would find that people are more tolerant than we think. This is not supposed to be a rant at people, it is merely supposed to be a message that what we say is important and can make a huge difference.
People are more than happy to talk about their “success” in recovery, but very few will talk about the constant risk of relapse, or their bad days. This gives the wrong message that mental illness is something to be “overcome”, rather than lived with. There is a lot out there in the world, a lot of noise, but I wonder if we cut through the politics and the media hype, we may find that just talking might help.
People with mental illness are not locked away, nor are they off in the distance somewhere, they are here with us. They are our doctors, our friends, our mothers and firefighters, they are our partners, or siblings, our teachers, and they are allowed to have bad days.
So, next time you are out at the pub, or about to make a Facebook post, next time you go shopping with your friend or you stop for a five-minute chat in your lunch break, just remember this piece and maybe try to talk about it. You never know, you might just be surprised.