I’m really tired of the ‘us and then’ mentality that some people have regarding mental health. Usually, the ‘them’ are people with a mental illness or who are in mental distress. After recent trips to A & E to visit a relative, I have had to listen to this kind of damaging opinion being thrown about (usually about other people in the hospital) and it has made me annoyed enough that I thought I would shout into the void about it. And if I’m being honest it might not even flow properly because I wrote this at like 11pm last night and I am still annoyed.
I think what irritates me the most about this mentality is because it really doesn’t mean anything. These people are drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying that everyone on the other side are ‘crazy’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘not okay’. And I have several issues with that.
Firstly, how on earth can you assume that you are never going to be in mental distress or experience mental illness? 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year (Mind, 2017) and it is estimated that 1 in 6 people will experience a mental health problem in any given week (Mental Health Foundation, 2017). Over a lifetime, 20.6 in 100 people will experience suicidal thoughts and 7.3 in 100 people will self harm (Mind, 2017). I’m going to relate this to other statistics because sometimes numbers on their own seem meaningless. 1 in 11 children have asthma in the UK (Asthma UK, 2017). Less than 1 in 5 people are smokers (ASH, 2017). Less people have asthma then are likely to experience a mental health problem and yet asthmatics aren’t told that they are not like the rest of the population and are not seen as ‘other’.
I think the thing I’m trying to say is that there is no way to know that you won’t struggle with your mental health at some point. It can happen and there’s no real way of saying whether it will or won’t. Another thing to point out is that mental health and mental ill-health fluctuates. It may be that one day you draw the line and I’m on the side with you, and the other people who decided that having a mental illness makes you ‘other’, and on another day I might be on the other side of the line as an outcast.
By making this divide you are stigmatising thousands of millions of people by effectively saying, ‘you’re broken and we don’t want you around’. It’s a bit like the ‘not in my back yard’ mindset with wind turbines. When I was at school, the company that owned the building next door wanted to make it into a secure mental health unit, primarily to treat eating disorders, when the nearest inpatient unit was in the next county. That was in 2011. I was 11 years old and didn’t really pay much attention, but I knew that a lot of the parents weren’t happy about this plan because these patients would be ‘crazy’ and ‘needed to be locked up’. I was 11 years old and hearing these things. Roll on 5 years time when I’m developing an eating disorder, it makes things a little difficult to try and tell people what you are experiencing. This is what makes it so difficult to talk about – if you know that people are going to view you as someone who they are frightened of, or who they don’t want around, you aren’t going to express that you are struggling.
How do you divide people up like that though? Earlier I wrote that mental health fluctuates, but our ability to hide it also fluctuates. The ability to blend into everyone else, everyone with stable mental health, does not equal the severity of what you are dealing with. You can be suicidal and still make it into work. You can be having multiple panic attacks a day and still make it into school. You can be hallucinating and still go out with your friends. It isn’t a cut and dry issue. On the other hand, you may be experiencing these things and not be able to go to work, school or out to town. And that’s okay.
However, if you can hide what you are dealing with enough that people aren’t aware of it, it can lead people to say ‘well you’re not like them‘. Who is them? Is the ‘them’ the people who live with voices or who have to carry out compulsions in order to quiet the obsessive thoughts? They are us. We are all the 1 in 4 because who knows which 1 in 4 it will be? If you are going to shut them out then I’m walking right out with them. This divide is pointless and damaging. There really isn’t that much difference between us all, I promise you.
It just makes me really cross that people automatically assume mentally ill means dangerous. Sure, you can have a mental illness and be dangerous and violent. Just as someone can be dangerous and violent and not have a mental illness. People who have a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime then commit crime – those who have a serious mental health problem are 10 time more likely to be a victim of crime than the general population (Mental Health.gov, 2017). Don’t paint everyone with the same brush.
People who are experiencing mental distress or who live with mental illness aren’t necessarily dangerous (just as someone who is mentally stable isn’t necessarily not dangerous). We aren’t broken, our brains just don’t work like the average human brain. We might need medication to make it work in a way that we can deal with, and that’s okay. We might not need medication or it might not work in the right way for us or it might take several attempts to find the right one. And that’s okay too. I am in awe of everyone who carries on with their problems, mental health related or not because life isn’t easy. And people making such ridiculous divides between us doesn’t make life any easier. There is no us and them. We are all the 1 in 4. And maybe if we didn’t make such divides it would make talking about it easier by accepting that this is a human experience that we might all experience at one point in our lifetimes.