Why it should be OK to tell a friend to take their meds
An email pinged into the inbox, asking if I could write a short blog for a new website – Mindshare – an online mental health community.
The email went to the ‘think about later’ folder. And I sort of did think about it later, but my mind kept skittering over the surface of it, like a beetle on a shiny floor. Touching it but leaving it untouched.
When that happens it’s because there’s something I’m a little bit afraid of. When I got a follow up email, I sighed and had a proper think about it. And what I thought was that I’m afraid of the language of mental health: I don’t want to write an opinion piece on it because the language is cold, and fills me with dismay. The language I know goes something like this: Mental health in crisis. Psychotic abandoned by failing system. Children with mental illness left years without treatment. Suicide cluster. Depression epidemic. Neglect. Danger.
And then there are the shocking statistics.
I’ve penned many stories on mental health; on the breakdowns in the system, on those who fall between the gaps. On suicide, on devastation and distraught carers and a society that leaves people until it’s too late to help them.
And I’ve written earnest editorials decrying the inhumanity of it; the lack of resources, the inability to act until it’s an emergency.
That’s why the email languished. Stepping outside the official language structure and talking personally and honestly about mental health risks offending someone; you can say the wrong thing, break the rules.
Like everyone, I know many, many people with a mental illness, people on a spectrum from easily-controlled-with-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-or-drugs to those-with-devastating-peaks-and-troughs. But with the people I know I’m not constrained by this fear of speaking about it, because in my head they are not defined by their mental illness. They just are who they are.
So I can listen to what’s in their heads without feeling I have to offer platitudes. Or I can tell them to bugger off and take their meds. I don’t need to shy away.
But stigma still exists, limiting the conversation, because when we first meet someone with a mental illness we don’t know the shape of it. We don’t know when it will bob up or what to do when it does. And we don’t really want to prod around in the depths for fear of awakening some kind of beast, so we sort of ignore it, and by ignoring it, ignore the person and too often ignore the broader issue.
At The Punch I was discussing with a contributor the need for more conversations on people with disabilities. From that phone call, the “Angry Cripple” was born, an anonymous persona who could talk about disabilities angrily, passionately and frankly. Yes, the name offended some. But not many, not really. And I learned from that process that it is better to take the risk of offending someone than it is to render something unspeakable except in the narrowest of terms.
That is how an issue drops off the radar, including the political radar.
So this is my blog, my point, for what it’s worth. We need to start to dismantle the stigmas around mental illness through humour, and honesty, and language unconstrained by political correctness. Because stigmas allow us to ignore both people and their problems, and give the powers-that-be more wriggle room to do the same.
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