It came to my attention last week that mental health is a topic I have a lot of time for. We were having a training session at work on mental health awareness and we watched a video of people talking about their experiences, what they’ve suffered from and how its been perceived by friends and colleagues.
Their experiences struck a chord with me on a number of levels, mainly, because I’ve had a few run-ins with mental health difficulties myself. The worst were in my teenage years, but its only been recently that I’ve started to figure out what was going on at that time and how some of it has clung on as I’ve got older.
I also know of several people who have gone through severe difficulties, in particular, one of my best friends who had a psychotic episode and spent many years of his life trying to claw back a sense of self that had been all but destroyed by the experience.
Mental ill health has been in the media a lot in recent years and charities such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness are making bold moves to bring mental health matters out into the open. The common argument is that as an illness, mental health problems should be spoken about in the way that we speak about other illnesses, or even a broken bone. While its definitely good to encourage people to talk about it, the problem is that mental health is never a straightforward subject to discuss. The mind is a mysterious thing and scientists are still baffled by its mechanics. Moreover, medicine still knows relatively little about common mental health problems, such as depression, despite the fact it affects 1 in 10 of us.
In my mind, issues such as depression or anxiety can arise for so many reasons. In my case, I’m still questioning whether it might be a hereditary issue, something I developed in childhood or even if I’m one of those people who seem to be more naturally disposed to psychological struggle, if you will.
I once saw a psychotherapist and he was of the opinion that people who are artistic or creative carry both a burden and gift as the mind is highly capable and therefore prone to highs and lows. Personally, I like to think of it as having a ‘loose’ mind, which is the way I feel, when my thoughts and feelings carry such weight that I’m almost at their mercy as to how they will influence my mental outlook.
Whether this is just a personality trait or something deeper is almost impossible to tell. Maybe its a bit of both. Furthermore, personal circumstances and how you conduct your life can have a great affect on mental health. Working nights in a shitty job is bound to affect your state of mind fairly drastically. Likewise, spending a large amount of your time on insular or inward looking tasks, (such as writing) can lead down a bit of a melancholy path if not evened up with some empathetic company.
And yet, there’s hundreds of people out there who carry on with their lives and never talk about their mental health problems, either because they can deal with them adequately on their own, or even that they don’t consider them a problem, but part of their larger psychological framework. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while its good to get the topic out there, don’t suppose that its in any way similar to physical illness and that talking about or dealing with mental health is a different story for everyone. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting people to look at their own psyches once in while, then we wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with discussing other people’s in the first place.