Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Lets have some honesty, shall we?

Stigmas. They're stubborn things aren't they?

I've seen a few folk tweeting this article: Hooked on Happy Pills? in The Independent this week about the sort of language used to describe medication for mental illness, and this has started me thinking a bit about one of the seemingly most stubborn stigmas: mental health. When you've worked as a community pharmacist for a while, you sort of start to see the sort of numbers of people who are taking mental health drugs, and you start not really thinking twice about them, so its interesting to see how pervasive the stigmatisation of mental health issues even in this day and age.

Now I'm a pretty normal person, to be honest. I'm not particularly exciting in any way shape or form, I have a stable, loving family background, and a truly wonderful circle of friends. I'm not rich, nor am I completely destitute. I work a 9-5, five days a week job which I rather enjoy. I function pretty well in daily life, to be honest, despite living up to my nickname of Simple Dog. I've been subjected to few major traumas in life, and whilst I've been certainly affected by my divorce, even that went pretty smoothly to be honest.

So what am I doing writing about mental health then, eh? Well, like pretty much everyone else in the world, I'm affected by it. And I'm tired of this stigma, and I think its becoming time to just start talking. I know that my contribution to the party is going to be very, very tiny, but I'm also naive enough to think that very, very tiny bits all add up to a change. Lately, I've just started being honest about myself with other people. It started imperceptively, but seems to have grown to the point where I'm merrily discussing my anxiety issues with colleagues that I would never have dreamed talking to about such things with.

I'm generally of a pretty anxious constitution, and I think I always have been. When I was much younger, maybe 12-13-ish I started having panic attacks which led to a period of bulimia, which had nothing to do with my weight but was to do with a fear of vomiting in public. It seemed logical at the time (and to be entirely honest, I still think its a bit logical now). Anyway, I overcame all that, and am left with a sort of residual anxiety which raises its head now and then, but most of the time is fairly easily kept in check. In recent months its resurfaced a fair bit, and its not being helped by my increasingly monstrous appearance of late as my guttate psoriasis continues. What helps? telling people about it. If I'm getting palpitations, I'll tell people that I'm getting them, and that in itself makes me feel a bit better. If I wake up early in the morning filled with vague, formless fears, I'll tweet about it, and there's an instant bit of relief, and usually someone there to say something practical or funny about it.

I'm surrounded by people who also have mental health issues of varying degrees, from some of my nearest, dearly loved and oldest friends to momentary acquaintances. There are people I have never met, but who have been some of the greatest pillars of support to me in less than 140 characters. There are people who I hope I've helped a bit, and some I wish I could help more. And guess what, everyone else is surrounded too. The more open I've been, the more open people have been with me, and I think this is a privilege and a right that everyone should have. There's been some  who haven't handled these things as sensitively as they could have done, but I figure the more I bleat on about things, the more normalised it becomes.

At our Skeptics In The Pub talk the other night, there was one lone voice in the crowd that believed and spoke up for homeopathy. I'm reminded of him when writing this because he was getting a pretty thorough grilling from myself and other folk who were there, and was being asked about his particular experience with homeopaths and he had little hesitation in talking openly about his depression, and how he felt it was helped by having a homeopath with whom he felt he could talk to. His bravery is quite staggering really, given he was in a room full of people who disagreed heartily with him, and yet he still told us all.

I know this has been said already in bigger and better ways, but this is my tiny contribution. I guess what I'm trying to say is lets be rational about this whole thing, accept that these issues are everywhere and everyone has them to some degree or another, and just be honest about it. The more matter of fact we are, every day, even in the tiniest of ways, the more difference we can make to everyone. I sort of feel like its the people like myself, the "normal, functioning" folk who can maybe make the most amount of difference here. I'm guessing people with milder mental health issues may be more able to mask it, and more reluctant to be open about it lest something terrible happens. But they key thing here is that we have to be open, so that the something-terrible-that-might-happen-if-we-do-let-on doesn't exist anymore.

Hope this makes sense,