I began to write partly because I believe that when we talk about mental health and share experiences, such issues can become part of normal conversation. They stop being something hushed up or hidden away. I really think experiences of poor mental health are just part of the spectrum of being human. That anyone, given a particular vulnerability or circumstance, can experience distress. I also think that with time, empathy and respect, anyone can return from a place of extreme distress, to rebuild their life. For many, accessing the right help at the right time can be a key part of this journey. What helps is different for each of us.
I have experience of mental health problems. I don’t often use labels, especially on the rare occasions I speak about my own experiences. I think what matters is arriving at an understanding which allows us to move on to something better.
I read a wonderful blog entry from a fellow social worker today. describing his descent into, and recovery from depression. I respect the fact that he has spoken out and shared his experience. But I wish it were not so unusual. I wish that these conversations were normal and that we didn’t still feel so silenced by these issues. I know some wonderful social workers, teachers and volunteers who all have experience of mental health difficulties. I’ve seen some of these people discriminated against and judged based on their label, rather than their behaviour. At the moment, speaking out often brings unwanted consequences. I recently reconnected with a friend I met whilst studying for my Social Work Masters. We have both had eating disorders. Neither of us talked about it at the time, and we missed an opportunity to connect. Four or five years later, we talk, and I have been very encouraged by her story.
So basically, I think we need to talk. And we need to listen and try to understand. And if we did, maybe mental distress wouldn’t seem so scary, maybe we wouldn’t need to hide behind labels, and maybe it could become part of normal conversation. We’re on our way, but I think we have a long way to go.