[TW slurs, self-harm, suicide]
(Taking a break from the gender posts as for a lot of what’s to come I can’t speak to the experience. I am working on resolving this however.)
We’ve all seen the horrible words thrown at people with mental health issues, we’ve used a lot of them ourselves: “mad”, “crazy”, “psycho”, “loony”.
In many ways, our views on mental health haven’t moved much beyond the era where people could pay to see the “nutters” in Bedlam. Because a lot of the time they’re invisible illnesses, they’re seen as attention-seeking, excuse-making, easy to break out from.
“Ach, cheer up, it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.”
“You just need to get up and do something, exercise is good for shaking the blues.”
“Have you just tried pushing through it?”
Why is it, when we would never tell someone to get up and run a marathon if they had broken their leg, that we expect someone with a mental health issue to be able to push on as though nothing has happened?
Why is it that mental health issues are these not talked about taboos, to such an extent that in Britain the suicide rate remains at 10.8 deaths per 100,000, and the rate for young males is still 3 times higher than that of young woman (discounting for those misgendered after death)?
I have a theory:
We are terrified of mental health issues because they can affect ANYONE at ANY TIME
Unlike physical injuries, that can be avoided by training right, avoiding certain activities, or healed up in relatively quick order with medication or operations, mental health issues are often a long-term issue, requiring hours upon hours of treatment.
They’re seen as a weakness. They can appear out of nowhere. And they can literally affect anyone at any time. They don’t discriminate.
And yet. And yet.
A large part of it is again to do with sexism and misogyny. Mental health issues are seen as things that happens to women because they are weak and overemotional, and it’s not manly to talk about being depressed or anxious.
There are plenty of campaigns now about seeing past the facade, about making a space to talk, especially when it comes to young men. One of the ones I saw which I actually liked was one of the Mandictionary ads, which usually annoy the shit out of me (I admit it is a personal bias against unnecessary portmanteaus).
The word in question was ‘Manish’, which their definition meant ‘banishing sensitive behaviour from typically manly places, like the pub’.
Now, that’s bullshit. We all know that. What I like about this though is it leave the unspoken idea that places that aren’t typically “manly”, like your house, or in the car or whatever, are good places to talk about these things. MEN CAN BE SENSITIVE.
It’s bullshit that we have to have campaigns like this, but our generation have centuries of sexist and misogynistic leanings to fight off, so it’s a start.
Of course, there are many charities available to speak to about these things if you’re having a bad day, Samaritans being the most well known. But this also puts a lot of pressure on the individual battling the mental health issue to be strong enough to reach out for help by themselves.
If we can remove the stigmas against mental health, and make it just part of our practice to ask friends “How are you today?”, and have them feel they are able to tell us the truth without being judged, we are going to go a long way to help each other.
Mental health issues are not something anyone asks for, and they are horrendous to deal with, but we need to stop judging people who carry on with them regardless.
And yes, this is a bit of a rant because mental ill health is something that affects me personally, but I also think that we just need to be better people, so take from this what you will.
I point you to this strip by Robot Hugs for a handy way to remember what I’ve said above.