Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Speaking up about mental health.

This is quite a different blog post from what I normally write, and I did think about putting it on my personal blog, but it is a political issue, just as much as issues related to my gender or sexuality are political issues. I’m talking about my mental health. Well, more, why I don’t feel comfortable talking about issues related to mental health anymore. I used to. But since coming to university I’ve become increasingly unwilling to be just…be open about the whole thing.

I’ll preface this by saying I have depression and I have anxiety. I first remember being properly depressed when I was nine…the worst it has ever been was when I was fourteen, which was in large parts because I just didn’t know how to deal with it or, more importantly, have any real desire to. I’ve had plenty of depressive periods since then, but none that bad. I’ve self-harmed, although I don’t think I’d describe myself as a self-harmer…more a depressive who…dabbled. I have really rare panic attacks, and I have bouts of social anxiety when being around people just…freaks me out; and this can be strangers or my best friends. This isn’t most of the time, by any means, and depression especially I am for the most part really pretty decent and coping with. But it’s still something I suffer from and that’s probably not going away, well, ever.

Before I came to university I was fairly fine with being like “yeah, I have this thing…” if the issue arose; and I suppose one of the key reasons I'm not anymore is just that when you meet new people, you're hesitant to bring it up too early on...but then they become your friends and you still haven’t brought it up and then so much time as passed and it just feels weird to suddenly insert it into conversation.

But there are a lot of other reasons why I think I feel very uncomfortable talking about this stuff. And I know that that’s bad and that I should be open about it because mental health is still something with this huge stigma attached and people speaking out is helpful…so I wanted to write a post about why I don't feel comfortable speaking out about it anymore.

I worry about people not believing me because I seem fine. And, for the most part, I am fine and I can see why the idea I’d be depressed, let alone the idea I have episodes of social anxiety, would be surprising to a lot of people. And so I do feel like people just won’t…take the idea that these are actually problems I suffer from seriously.

Then, there’s this feeling that I can’t say I have mental health issues because they’re not nearly as bad as other peoples. And they’re really not; there are so many people who suffer from mental health problems a million times worse than mine. But on the other hand I’m more than happy to speak out about issues related to being bisexual, but I’ve never experienced  hate crime, I have a supportive family etc…my experience of this hasn’t been anywhere near as hard as a lot of other people’s.

And it’s good to speak up about milder mental illnesses…because that helps challenge the idea of a binary mentally ill or mentally well state of being....right?

I guess the other big thing is that wonderful world of jobs and careers that university makes you really, really aware of…which is a good thing, but when you’re conscious of presenting yourself in an employable way you, or at least I, tend to not want to mention the bit where you’re so sad you just don’t want to get out of bed. Which is silly on two levels; for me, personally, depression etc has never stopped me doing anything I had to do. It’s made it a whole lot less fun and it’s stopped me doing things I’d like to do, but with school and work I’ve kept going, albeit unenthusiastically.

But more importantly if someone wasn’t prepared to hire me because of these issues, that would be really wrong of them. I shouldn’t hide this because some people might be horrible about it.

We do need to, as a society, be more open about mental health and mental illness, and I know that. But it can be tough, you know?

Leeds Mind Matters society is running an excellent campaign called the elephant in the room, which inspired this post...it is important that we all find the strength and are given the freedom and the safety to speak up about mental health problems; because a whole lot of people have them, and the sooner we can start accepting them as normal, the better.

The elephant in the room facebook page; http://www.facebook.com/LUUElephant

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