See Change is saddened to learn of the passing of author and See Change ambassador Maeve Binchy on Monday, 30 July.
Maeve kindly lent her support to the See Change campaign and became one of our first ‘Ripple Makers’ before the launch of the Make a Ripple campaign back in May 2010. Today, we thought we’d honour the power of her words by revisiting her thoughtful piece about stigma and our attitudes to mental health problems;
People talk about the Good Old Days, but I don’t think they were all that good. Not in terms of talking about Mental Health certainly. We just didnt talk about it. If someone amongst family friends or relations had a nervous breakdown, a depression or anything involving psychiatric care, the rule was simple: it must never be mentioned. The kind and correct thing to do was to make no reference or comment or enquiry about them whatsoever. So generations had to cope with the loneliness, exclusion and an undeserved sense of a great divide in the world. They were the people who ‘suffered from their nerves’, so alienated from the rest of the world that they could never be mentioned.
Today’s world is not perfect, but unlike the Good Old Days it has at least come to accept that we all walk a fragile line and can easily need care for the mind and spirit as for the body. I welcome warmly a way of life that means I don’t have to turn my head away from mental illness as we did when I was young. I can discuss a friend’s depression with her, a neighbour’s panic attack, a colleague’s early dementia, in the same way we’re able to talk about appendicitis or gall bladders.
We can get it wrong, of course– be too sympathetic or sound uncaring, give too much advice or too little. But at least the doors are open. It’s no longer a shadowy world which must be ignored and denied. It’s a world into which we could easily all step. And the great news is that we can step out of it again, as a huge number of people do everyday. And more will continue to do so just as long as society will include them, as long as those Good Old Days don’t return with their message that if you don’t look at it and talk about it then it might just go away.