Today is World Mental Health Day, a day whose aims include raising awareness of mental health around the world.
I love October, but I always start the month with a mixed bag of emotions. 29 years ago my Aunty killed herself at the beginning of October. She wasn’t well, hadn’t been well for years, and the illness took its toll. This is the point, she was not weak, she was ill. She didn’t give up the fight or any of these awful handy off pat phrases bandied around, she died as a result of her illness. She had what was termed in those days manic depression, more commonly known now as Bipolar Disorder. Her death was the single most devastating thing to happen to our family as a whole. I’m not sure how you come back from the death of a child at any age, but death by their own hand must be horrific. I’m not sure either how my grandparents coped with the guilt, with the thought that maybe they could’ve done more to help – in my mind they couldn’t have – and her death fractured all of us in different ways. I was only a young child, and so I observed mainly from the outside the messy process of grief, the anger and the confusion. Oddly it made sense to me, I think children often see the world more simply, she was ill and then died. As a child I didn’t differentiate between mental and physical illness.
But every death is a tragedy, and none should be seen as an inevitability. I firmly believe that the more acceptable it is to say you don’t feel ok, or that you suspect maybe your behaviour isn’t healthy, that you don’t dismiss it as making a fuss, or feel that you should feel happy, or less anxious, or any of the ways we are told we should feel, the higher the chances that people will be better looked after. Societal expectations can work to exacerbate problems, and so even if it’s hard to speak up, we must learn to, for future generations as well as our own.
Mental Health, or mental ill health, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, for half of my teenage years, and much of my twenties I suffered badly from Anorexia. I still have Anorexia, maybe not in clinical terms of weight, but it’s still there, it’s still something I have to fight and have had to learn to deal with. It’s something that gets easier to talk about the more I talk about it, it’s something that’s easier to live with now I’ve accepted I have it. Hiding from it and trying to cover it up only made it worse. Of all mental illnesses Anorexia has the highest mortality rate, it’s a serious disease that kills, and not one that should be reduced to heightened vanity, as it so often is by the media. I’m now comfortable saying I’m Anorexic, not because I want to hold onto the disease, but admitting recovery is a process – and for me likely a lifelong management of unhealthy behaviours – makes it easier, makes it more pragmatic.
What difference do I think this post will make, really in the grand scheme of things? I would used to have said none. But if one person reads this and looks for help, or speaks up, or helps someone else, then that’s doing exactly what today aims to do; raising awareness of still stigmatised conditions that need to be treated as what they are – illnesses. The sooner we stop being afraid of mental health, the sooner we lessen the stigma around it and accept it’s something many battle with to a greater of lesser degree, the sooner we as a society will learn to live more healthily, and offer help to those who need it.
If you feel in anyway affected by what’s said above, please contact any of the organisations listed below, they’re there to help:
MIND – the mental health charity designed to help with a range of conditions and to point you in the right direction.
BEAT – the charity for eating disorders, again they can point you in the right direction and are there to help sufferers and to reduce stigma.
THE SAMARITANS – 24 hour support for people experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts. They are keen to stress they aren’t just for people feeling suicidal, they are there to support anyone who needs it.