I have talked a bit about mental health issues previously on this blog with the intention that I probably wouldn't be saying much more about it, at least not the internet for everyone to see. But, I woke up this morning to see that it was World Mental Health Day and realised that by not talking about myself or mental illness again I would only be perpetuating the idea that there should be a stigma surrounding mental illness. Obviously this blog post won't be going into the juicy details of just how warped I probably am, but I can't really say everything I want to say without talking about my own issues.
Too often with mental illnesses we are encouraged to sweep them under the carpet, we are the people that are discussed in quiet tones at family gatherings, nobody ever wanting to say the obvious or really acknowledge the problem. People believe that those with mental illnesses are exaggerating, are lazy or just need to simply get over their problems like everyone else does. Throughout a lot of my schooling teachers were aware that my Dad had died when I was eleven years old, as such whenever I appeared to be openly upset I was allowed to "get on with it", often difficult conversations were avoided because it is easier to focus on the short term of feeling comfortable than worry about the long term effects of an un-helped mental illness. There seems to be a belief that mental illnesses can be resolved by simply deciding to think positively, that they aren't a real illness are something that people put forward as an excuse for why they don't succeed or behave properly. In reality this is far from true, around 45% of people with an eating disorder go on to recover, that is a worse rate then cancer. Other mental illnesses can lead to suicide, self harm and destructive behaviors that are life changing and can have serious side effects for the rest of a sufferers life. A mental illness is not an imaginary illness, it is a real problem that can effect even those who seem perfectly "normal".
Too often I have been sat in college and heard people discussing those who are depressed or obviously suffering, with a complete misunderstanding of how serious it can be. I've comments such as "they are too thin now, why haven't their parents made them eat" directed at those who are too thin (regardless of whether they actually have an eating disorder). I've heard someone say that all MP's should be screened for mental illnesses so everyone in the government is sane- as if their is a black and white definition of what sanity is. I've heard people refer to people they've seen in town who are on drugs or homeless as "retards" or "crazy". So often it shocks me how little empathy is shown for the mentally ill, people are willing to raise money for cancer until the cows come home but they are not willing to open their minds to the idea that their preconceptions may not be right. I think too often people hold in their mind an idea that the mentally ill are going to be wildly bipolar, with unwashed hair and be completely incompetent and cannot see that those around them may have those very same issues. I spent the whole of last year getting up at 6am, doing vigorous exercise for two hours, then walking to and from college at a ridiculous speed to spend my lesson time obsessively working in an attempt to get the best grades. I often spent my breaks and lunchtimes revising and on returning home would exercise again for another hour or two before revising until I went to bed. I was fueled by those who were impressed with me, the people that praised me for my weight loss, teachers who told me I would walk my exams, my family who didn't understand how I could so much in a day. I wasn't the typical image of a mentally ill person with their hand down their pants in a pub, I was too successful, too perfect and too highly strung to be like those people, or at least I thought I was.
Mental illness eat you up from the inside, they steal your health, your personality, your friends and family and everything else they can. In my strive to be successful I managed to strip myself of every talent I might have had. Yes, I may have appeared to be incredibly dedicated and successful for three months but now I am left with many physical illnesses, a poor memory and even worse concentration. Whilst you may be able to come to terms with cancer or heart disease limiting your day to day ability to cope, it is much harder to come to terms with the fact that you have destroyed your own ability to cope. A mental illness is inside you, but it isn't you, it doesn't have to destroy you or your life. Too often people avoid reaching out for help because they are worried they will be judged, once you do reach out you often have to wait months for a referral to your mental health service, more months until you get any actual treatment, often this can all come to late. It is right that mental health services should be most concerned at those who pose a threat to themselves or others, but often the long waiting times completely escalate how close a person is to snapping. I have often felt that my mental health services have driven me to do dangerous things just so I can be taken seriously. Nick Clegg has pledged that waiting times will be cut for mental health services, is this enough? It isn't enough, but it is a start and just maybe it will save peoples lives.
I am fairly fortunate in that I come from a family who are very open about mental health issues, my sister currently writes a blog documenting her journey to being a mental health nurse that you can read here. But I urge you all to try and reach out to someone who you know is struggling, it might be uncomfortable but it could be the help they need. I have left a few links that should be helpful to read or send to anyone who needs extra support and information.
Mind- a charity which has loads of useful information and support
Beat- A charity specifically set up to help those with eating disorders
Information on your rights and legal standing point for work etc.
Time to change- a website that provides lots of useful support links, numbers and opportunities to talk about mental health
Sane- Another charity that has support, information and helplines