Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Invisibility of Mental Health

Today is day two of Mental Health Awareness Week 2013.

As you all know, my name is Amy-Louise. I'm 20 years old and I live on the outskirts of East London and Essex. I have dark brown medium length hair and dark brown eyes. I'm 5'7.
I have a boyfriend of almost four years.

I have a job.
I've completed A-level exams, and GCSE'S, and will be attending University in September.
I have friends, and family.
I volunteer.
I love to read and write. I love Keira Knightley films, and The Big Bang Theory.

Alongside those exterior facts which most people know about me, I've battled a variety of mental health problems since I was 12 years old, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-injury/suicidal ideations. I've had low self-esteem and low self-confidence since I can remember.
The more that people find out these facts about me, the more they are shocked; 'I'd never expect you to go through something like that' or 'why, but you're always so happy all the time' or 'well I'd never tell by just looking at you'.

That's the point, really. Mental Health is invisible. And it isn't something you can just tell by looking at someone and assuming that they couldn't possibly suffer. Apparently, I don't look like someone who would suffer from a mental health problem, but quite honestly I have no idea of what their perception of someone with a mental health problem is like. I once got told that I was 'too pretty to have an eating disorder' - so those with eating disorders have to be ugly? Of course not, it's ridiculous.

Unfortunately, even in the 21st century where 1 in 4 people are currently struggling with some form of mental health problem, there are still some awful misconceptions which relate back to the 1940s where care of the mentally ill often meant electro-convulsive therapy, cell containment, and that classic image of men in straitjackets. If you fast forward to films made in the 1970s and 80s where all murderers were psychotic and had mental health problems, leading to the impression that all mental health sufferers were violent. Even today, news teams feel the need to report the link between mental health and criminality on a consistent basis.

I can quite honestly tell you now that I'm far from violent. As you can tell by the facts above I actually lead a pretty normal life.

You don't need to fit into a certain category, or look a certain way to have a mental health problem. It's in the name, it's a mental illness, full of complex human emotions, and we ALL have those, right? The brain is such a wonderful yet complicated part of our body yet so many of us are reluctant to want to understand it. If you can't see it, then it doesn't exist, right?

The truth is that mental health problems DO exist and they DO destroy lives. They're not about overreacting or attention-seeking or wanting to cause a stir in someone elses life. They are real, they make you feel worthless, ashamed, disgusting, they take over your life in ways in which you couldn't possibly imagine unless you've been there yourself.
Sufferers like myself go unnoticed for an extremely long period of time due to feeling ashamed, feeling like being accused of attention-seeking, feeling as if no-one would care, and feeling like they're not worthy enough for these issues, and we internalise it and build it up inside of ourselves until we break. And that's exactly what I did back in November 2010. I broke, and ended up in a hospital bed.

It's so important that we talk to people about our mental health. Asking people whether they are okay and are having a good day could possibly be the prompt that someone needs to talk about what they are going through. Don't be scared if someone admits to you that they have a mental health problem. Talk to them. They're human, just like you. You never know, you may just be able to help them.

What do you think? Why do you think that mental health is STILL strongly stigmatised against, even to this day when so many people suffer? Is it because it is an invisible illness, or is there more to it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Perfectly said Amy! I often wonder what people would say if I told them the depth of my struggles - to me it feels like they take up so much of my life, but other people apparently don't even notice. It's not that I keep it a secret(anymore) but I don't exactly go around shouting it from the rooftops. I always want to ask what other people's perceptions of me are - how do they see me compared to how I see myself?

    But I'm off on a tangent - to answer your question, I think another important issue these days is how normal certain mental illnesses, such as depression, are becoming. If told that someone is depressed people think that means that they are feeling a bit down etc... but they don't appreciate how severely incapacitating it can really be; how it can consume one's whole life and how sometimes you can't fight it, however much you try. I don't think many people understand how little control you can have when things are severe. And people don't realise that above everything else - depression, the eating disorder, whatever - is an ILLNESS. It is NOT part of your personality and the real you is NOT the same as the disordered you. I guess there is a thin line between what is sometimes personality traits and sometimes indicates symptoms of mental illness, and people get the two confused.

    Why do you think it is that mental illness is still so stigmatised Amy? xx