In light of the last post, and the phenomenal reaction it received, I’ve decided to continue the conversation about mental health on the blog. Over the course of the last week I’ve been contacted by a lot of people, sharing their own experiences, or those of people close to them. It’s been serious food for thought, and served to hammer home just how different each and every person’s mental health experience is and how different their needs are. One of the mails that really stood out was from Sinead Fallon, and with her kind permission I have reproduced it below.
Recent attempts by the media to highlight mental illness have left me feeling more isolated from society than ever. Am I alone? With journalists and commentators jumping over themselves to find the most ‘normal’ cases of mental ill health, we have been regaled with images and stories of average young, middle-class men, suffering from temporary depressive episodes. Throw in the odd celebrity and the most recent charity attempt to raise money to solve the problem.
The problem presented by the ‘temporary depression’ approach is this. As a person with a long term mental illness – Biploar Affective Disorder, I find the campaign disingenuous and dangerous. The stories inevitably involve an episode in which the young male feels down, has no energy, wants to stay in bed all day, and loses interest in life. These are all symptoms of a depressive episode. Depressive episodes are very serious. Depression can ruin your life. These are both true.
The problem is this: all the stories then presented a series of events in which support was received from family, friends, GPs, medication and counselling and the person became ‘normal’ again. The End.
For 1 in 10 people living with a serious mental illness, this is not the case. But we are not heard. Our mental illnesses are life long, we do NOT ‘get over it’ – we learn to accept our fate and live with our illnesses. The presentation of the story in which someone is depressed and gets over it is dangerous, because so many of the people who experience these kind of depressive episodes don’t return to their lives as they knew them, which isn’t always a bad thing by the way. Their illnesses grow and change over the years. They receive new diagnoses of bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, eating disorders etc. They continue to suffer periodic episodes of psychosis or depression. Their lives never return to how they were before. Relationships are seriously affected. Employment is a serious challenge. Poor physical health is common. The damage of the lifelong mental illness is immeasurable.
The media, like society in general find it difficult to understand us. They want to fix us, find that magic formula to get us back to normal. We have learned the hard way that there is no getting back to normal. There is just acceptance of this new life as the normal. Societal attitudes around mental health in Ireland can lead to stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion for those with mental health issues. These attitudes are influenced by messages and opinions coming from politicians, public commentators and the media. When we are seen to refuse to present ourselves as normal and when we refuse to recover as these others have, how does society treat us?
Listening to Bressie tell us all he didn’t ever feel suicidal because he had a good support network was particularly nauseating. Does this mean then that those of us who do feel suicidal or those who have died by suicide did not have a good support network?
Equally the presentation of the ‘mother’ saving the son from depression may leave mothers feeling useless for not being able to solve their son’s mental illnesses. I do not blame in anyway Bressie or the others who shared their stories and I do wish them all the best. I just wish there was more balance in the presentation of the stories. When will a schizophrenic middle aged woman from a working class background sit on Brendan O’ Connors couch? Soon, I hope.
For those who watched and read the stories and who are feeling something similar, please do not give up when you don’t start to experience the recovery spoken of. You are most probably one of the majority of those who need to accept a more difficult fate.