This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week, with kindness being the theme for this year.
We all have mental health, just as we do physical health, only we don’t seem to exercise or nurture the former, in a way we do the latter. For many, poor mental health is a taboo subject, for some, a stigma.
Anxiety and depression is something I have struggled with from early childhood, through teenage years and into adulthood. It was severe enough for my (adoptive) mother to make a one-off visit to the family GP and, subsequently, a child psychologist for prognosis, a brave decision for a working-class housewife in a hard northern town in the less than enlightened 1970s. She didn’t take me with her for the consultation, and it wasn't until some years later that she was to tell me about her visit. The psychologist's prognosis of my condition was on my 17-year-old birth mother's state of mind at being pregnant and unmarried in the early 1960s, a shameful thing to be during that time. That shame was dealt with by sending her from her home in the West Midlands to a maternity home for unmarried mothers in Lincolnshire, known locally as 'the naughty girls' home', where she would give birth to her child, before then giving it up for adoption six weeks later.
The psychologist's advice to my mother was to hope that I would "grow out of it"...
Having poor mental health can be a stigma, and like illegitimate births, years ago, something not to be talked about, the fact that we as individuals and as a society don’t talk about such things, only makes the sufferer’s issue worse. Why? - Probably because we don’t understand or know how to deal with it. The five warning signs of mental health issues are long-lasting sadness or irritability; extreme high and low moods; excessive fear, worry, or anxiety; social withdrawal; dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits. Living with one or more of these issues can have a massive impact on a sufferer's day-to-day existence, and dealing with it can be equally challenging. You can't just "shake it off”, or just “pull yourself together”, which is why people with mental health issues often turn to alcohol or drugs - or both. Some take it a step further with self-harming, some to suicide.
Anyone who knows me well, also knows I like a drink. Some might say too much. Maybe that's due to me starting my working life in construction where drinking is part of its culture, and/or growing up in what was once one of the world's busiest fishing ports and where the fishing industry had an even greater culture for drinking - or maybe alcohol just numbs the realities of life.
I've always wanted to believe that positivity is infectious, that surrounding oneself with positive people and trying to adopt and keep a positive attitude can become self-perpetuating. However, the reverse side of the coin is that negativity has the same traits, and as a society, we tend to lean towards the negative before the positive. The good news is, society is becoming more accepting of people with mental health issues, probably because those affected are talking about it more openly, doing what I and many others are too afraid or embarrassed to do. To banish the stigma of poor mental health, it needs to be talked about to break down the barriers and dispel the taboo, to 'normalise' it, if you like. Other than with those close to me, talking about ‘it’, is something I’ve never done - until now.
My history and well-being are known to those who are close, and my day-to-day challenges are no longer as deep-rooted as they were when I was younger. Maybe with age comes a greater perspective. That’s not to say I don’t still have bad days, I do.
We all have mental health, and we all have mental health issues, the only thing that differentiates the ‘mentally healthy’ from the ‘mentally unhealthy’, is how severe the issue is, and severity can be a fine line, indeed!
Stay safe and well, and be kind to yourselves and others.