I have something cool to tell you about.
I do not suffer from extreme mental health issues but I have had dark days, difficult times, and panic attacks like many of us. Mental health issues, whether big or small, whether chronic and long lasting or relatively brief flare-ups when things get a bit much are those Things We Don’t Talk About. The precious veneer would crack leaving us looking a bit, well, unappealing. What would people say? Well, most people would say–or at least think, ‘yeah, me too.’
You’ve heard the stats, right?
One in four people will have mental illness. So there’s a high probability that if you aren’t suffering from a mental illness, you know someone who is. Even if you don’t realise it. And that’s the sad part because they probably need your support.
Our minds are amazing, exciting, complex things that create incredible inventions, explore detailed philosophies, and experience intense emotions. It’s no wonder our minds sometimes feel overloaded and it’s no wonder that those great, amazing thinking machines sometimes stray down the wrong path taking us through the wastelands of mental illnesses.
But because no one on the outside can see that you’re not feeling right, you feel funny telling them. How can you complain about an illness no one can see? How can you call in sick to work, when you don’t look ill? And worse, the stigma that remains attached to mental illness means most of you won’t be sharing news of your illness. Which is really impractical because sharing this information will mean the affected person can get good help more quickly and recover sooner. It’s win-win, so long as the supporter has an open mind.
I say ‘the affected person’ but actually everyone around the person suffering from a mental health issue is affected, even if they don’t know their friend/partner/colleague is suffering because their contribution to life will be a fraction of what it could be.
Education is the key
As with most things, education is probably the key. If everyone—both the sufferers and the rest, understand mental health issues better, there would be a lot fewer mental health issues. People would be supported and treated and guided in how to prevent future episodes. And we would all live in a much happier place. Golly, sounds awesome, doesn’t it?! So…what’s the hold up? Why aren’t we providing better support for people with mental health issues?
I support the recent moves to de-stigmatise mental illness. I want to be vocal about these issues because I think more people like myself–people who have an inkling but not the experience of mental health issues, need to stand up and support those who do suffer. If this de-stigmatisation is to work, it needs supporters on the outside as well as the inside to spread the word.
Here’s some education for you—even immensely successful people have suffered from crushing mental health issues. Did you know Winston Churchill periodically suffered from terrible depression, calling these episodes the Black Dog?
Famous comedienne Ruby Wax, fellow American expat and long term resident of the UK has also suffered from depression and she has decided to create a community called The Black Dog Tribe to help support people with mental health issues. As she said recently while speaking at BritMums Live, alcoholics have places to go to talk about their challenges, to support each other and to find recommendations for further support–people with mental health issues need a place to go as well. But because there is such a stigma surrounding it, who is going to turn up at a meeting as they do the AA?
An online community was the perfect answer. The Black Dog Tribe, named after Churchill’s beast offers anonymous community forums, links to support organisations, and information on mental health illnesses, treatments and medications. It is important to note that this community is not just for people suffering from mental health issues themselves, but also for their supporters. Pretty cool, right?
And I think this is especially cool for those of us in the expat life, as this community is international–anyone from anywhere can join and gain support and ideas.
Ruby hasn’t stopped there. Her new TV documentary, Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions films with three successful business people as they disclose their mental health condition to their colleagues and friends. Ruby also discovers prejudice against people with a mental illness is enshrined in law, when she meets two brave MPs who recently stood up in the House of Commons and told everyone about their own battles with depression. Don’t miss this amazing documentary, Monday July 23rd Channel 4 at 10 pm, Ruby Wax’s Mad Confessions.
What do you think?
I am interested in what you think readers—no, I am not asking for confessions, but I am curious about your ideas for challenging this stigma so that we can all benefit from supporting sufferers of mental illness.