“Mental illness the last taboo” – the silent killer, if not literally certainly figuratively. It kills your soul, your life, your sense of identity. It takes away the things you love; the laughter, the joy, the sense of peace, and what’s more, it’s often unspoken…certainly felt, maybe seen, but rarely heard.
The hushed nature of mental illness is one that has come to light increasingly frequently over the past few months; from the growing profile of the Time to Change Campaign, to the revolutionary parliamentary debate, to the somewhat controversial airing of the 4 Goes Mad season, it is gradually getting lifted into the public domain, or is it?
I’m a barmaid, a young adult and a sufferer of mental illness, a combination of three that seems ripe with contradictions, and it’s true, often my paths of the former and latter don’t mix. I don’t hide my mental illness; the majority of my colleagues know the reason of my repeated absence, the locals can see the scars on my arms and my boss knows of the turbulence that is my life, but I don’t actively talk about it, or generate conversation, or even try to educate people I meet. I just let people take it or leave it; take me or leave me.
The thing is, in two areas of my life mental illness is not on the radar, and the ongoing campaigns aren’t either. Step into work following the showing of any of the 4 Goes Mad series, and I guarantee that not one of my work colleagues will have seen it, and probably the majority will have no clue that the shows were on. The same goes for the parliamentary debate. Yet on both occasions my twitter feed has been awash with comments, discussion and praise for the events – but then my twitter account is mental health based, it is made up of the 1 in 4, not the 3 in 4. The 3 in 4 in my life are the ones that still have no concept of mental illness, other than the mainstream perception of it, and potentially have no interest either, but then they’re also the ones that the campaigns should be targeting, surely?
The young adults of today are the leaders of tomorrow, but all this investment in making mental illness everyone’s business is going unnoticed within this group of people. Given I’m a “mental health campaigner” and spend my life working with charities to promote the awareness of mental illness, it is true, I could probably be doing more myself to target this somewhat illusive generation, but then what do I say? I don’t want to make the distinction between me and them. I have nothing to admit to, and I have no desire for them to see or treat me in any other way – after all how many people wear contacts unnoticed, or use inhalers on a daily basis without people knowing? Where do you define the difference between sharing unnecessary information and breaking down stigma? If the aim is to normalise mental illness, then maybe that is just about accepting me as me.
I applaud the work that has been done to get mental illness onto the agenda, and I admire all those people that live with mental illness, the ones that actively campaign, but also the people that live day in day out with the silent struggle, but I’m having difficulty grasping how people in the public domain, especially the young people, are actually becoming any more aware of the implication that suffering from a mental illness has. So, we now have celebrity poster campaigns, we now have a set of programs dedicated to mental illness, all of which are positive steps forward, but what we still lack is the acceptance of us as us. There is still the 1 in 4 and the 3 in 4, there is still the mentally ill and the mentally well and there is still an “us and them” scenario. Talking is all very well, raising profiles is all very well but so is being able to allow ourselves to be seen as “normal” and allowing ourselves to be part of a 4 in 4, not a 1 in 4. Tackling public stigma is great, but how effective can that be when day in day out we still feel we have to stigmatise ourselves? How can we be honest in life and let people accept us, when being honest or accepting ourselves is made to feel so impossible?