Your brain is an organ, just like you heart or lungs. Like other organs in your body it’s part of you, but it isn’t ‘you’.
Things can go wrong with any organ, and because the brain is so complicated, like an incredibly sophisticated computer, the number of things that can go wrong is enormous. Some of these things can manifest themselves as Mental Illness. Just as a problem with the health of your heart isn’t visible but may change the way you feel and behave, a mental health problem may do the same.
These days people are comfortable with the fact that when someone is diagnosed with a heart problem, changes may have to be made to their personal and working life to help them cope and aid recovery. Some of these changes will be temporary, while others will be permanent. These are legally called ‘reasonable adjustments’. They may inconvenience the people around them, or look unfair if you aren’t aware of the underlying problem. Very few people have an issue with this, as it makes sense to do what we can to help a person keep healthy and performing to the best of their ability.
"So, if someone comes to you saying that they are anxious, stressed, depressed, just not feeling themselves or not coping as well as they usually do, do not judge. Listen. Ask them what they would like you to do. Listen again. This may be all they need. Keep listening."
Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case for those with mental health conditions. Many people just don’t ‘get’ the idea of mental health at all. Through ignorance and prejudice some refuse to believe that there is really a problem. Others may choose to believe that the mental illness IS the person, and makes them less worthy of help than ‘normal’ people. Instead of being offered support, a person with a mental health condition can be made to feel like they are ‘making it up’, ‘putting it on’, are ‘lazy’, ‘thick’ and ‘worthless’. You only need to be met with this sort of response once before you start to believe it and stop asking for help at all. It’s then that mental illness spirals and can become just as life threatening as any heart attack.
So, if someone comes to you saying that they are anxious, stressed, depressed, just not feeling themselves or not coping as well as they usually do, do not judge. Listen. Ask them what they would like you to do. Listen again. This may be all they need. Keep listening.
On the other hand, if you are struggling yourself, talk. Tell someone what is wrong. If they don’t listen that’s not because you are in the wrong. Don’t give up. Find someone else. If you don’t feel brave enough to talk to someone you know, phone, text or email the Samaritans. They never judge. Whatever you do don’t suffer in silence. You need support, and you deserve it.
In the meantime, we (who are not ‘normal’) need to educate those who still don’t ‘get it’. We need to share our stories and show that our mental health problems aren’t ‘us’. The power of talking and sharing is huge. Humans are social animals and learn from shared experiences. We can’t expect those who have never had a problem themselves, or listened to someone who has suffered, to understand. When they meet us, and hear of our journeys, they will begin to see that we are ‘normal’ too, whatever that is. Sharing can be hard work, but the more we do it the easier it becomes. The more we do it, the more we are beating out a path for those struggling behind us. We are the pioneers and the missionaries who carry the message to the ignorant and show them the light.
Eventually, they will ‘get it’.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org