A few words from See Change ambassador, Lucie K, on World Mental Health Day, 2018
There’s a lot I could choose to write about for this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10th). I could write about stigma. I could write about lack of services. I could write about the gap between private and public services. I could write about the budget. I could write about the differences between a mental health patient as opposed to being in a hospital or clinic for physical illness or injury. I could also write about the similarities between mental and physical illnesses.
Physical illness or injury covers a multitude. You can be injured and laid up from a point of perfect health. Illness can strike us out of nowhere or it can creep up slowly and take ages to diagnose. We can be born with a predisposition to some conditions. Our lifestyles can speed up the process. Our bodies can suffer trauma and need help to heal. We might need one or more specialties of medicine to treat us. We might need lifestyle changes, medication, therapy or all three.
These things are also all true for our mental health.
We all have mental health because we all have minds. We are hardwired to feel deeply about the world around us and sometimes our defences can be low and our emotions can get knocked out of rhythm. We suffer loss…no one is immune from this. We have stresses. We also have a tremendous will to survive and thrive and this is our resilience. Being ill, needing help, being isolated or being under pressure can knock that resilience but nothing takes it away.
Just as physical illness can result from a predisposition, so can mental illness. A life event might be the smoking gun. There’s so many variables. Some mental illnesses are triggered from trauma and recovery is a long process of figuring out how to feel emotions safely and how to experience the world outside of its long shadow. Anxiety can be about the future but it can also come from the past and the fact that something terrible already happened and the world feels unsafe. Recovery can be about learning to face loss. Loss of someone important. Loss of relationships. Loss of childhood. Loss of who we might have been. Acceptance of how we got from there to here. Medication helps with these things but only therapy can really make a difference…and you really have to work at it.
Illnesses like depression are insidious and can sneak up on us. We find ourselves in the middle of a terrible emptiness with everyone and everything seeming far away. That’s why I often think that in mental health campaigns, encouraging people to talk is one step but encouraging all of us to talk is a better way. If something seems off with someone, ask. If you are worried, ask. You might get nothing back. You might get a cheerful smile of denial. But believe me, you will lay a foundation in that person’s mind. You will become an option. Talking might feel a fraction easier than it did before you asked.
It’s almost exactly four years since I was diagnosed with a condition called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (or its better known and slightly more stereotyped name of Borderline Personality Disorder). After a lifetime of trying to live with it, the diagnosis was an odd mixture of relief and terror. Understanding what can go wrong with my thinking or feeling and why doesn’t make it ok but it makes it less frightening. Emotional regulation is important. If we don’t learn it instinctively in childhood and it becomes a difficulty, we will struggle to cope with overwhelming thoughts and feelings and the coping mechanisms won’t be healthy. I love the fact that concepts like mindfulness, self-care and sensory breaks are finding their way into schools. Just the greater awareness could mean that far less people might need the mental health services of the future and for those who do, it might be a more inclusive and less clinical experience.
We’re all human. We live in the world and sometimes we struggle to live in it and sometimes we struggle to recognise and manage emotions. Maybe we shouldn’t forget that children, with encouragement, are much better than adults at this. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m afraid. I love you. Being able to say it. Having someone to say it to. Knowing your words are safe with that person. That’s where Mental Health begins.
– Lucie K