Mental Health in Public

Published in Mental Health - 6 mins to read

Over the past decade or two, there’s been a big push to talk about mental health as part of the public consciousness; to make it less taboo; to try to raise awareness of issues which affect far more people than those who choose to be vocal about them. In a sense, a lot of progress has been made - it isn’t as much of a shock to hear a public figure talk about their “mental health struggles” as it once was. Even the British princes talk about it quite regularly. It’s in the news more, and it’s easier to talk about for me on a personal level too - I feel a lot less afraid of talking about it than I once did (although it’s unclear how much of this is due to attitudes changing and how much is simply a byproduct of me getting older). The thing is, the kind of mental health that it’s now deemed to be socially acceptable to talk about is very narrowly definied; in fact it only really encompasses depression and anxiety. Even then, it is largely the kind of depression or anxiety where you go to your GP, take some pills, see a therapist once a week for six months and then bang - you’re sorted, often for the rest of your life.

The thing is, there’s much, much more to it than that. With depression and anxiety, these struggles can be lifelong for people. The medications available don’t have an especially stellar success rate, and sometimes therapy can’t get to the root cause of the problem, and even when it can, might not provide a solution. A lot of people still aren’t aware of the potential ramifications of suffering from these symptoms, and think that they can still be relatively quickly fixed. And even then, there’s hundreds of issues that are still poorly understood by the collective consciousness, and even still taboo to speak about - postpartum depression and psychosis, OCD and ADHD (both labels which people often apply to themselves with some kind of sense of bizarre pride, despite not having any meaningful understanding of the conditions, in the process doing a lot of damage), any kind of personality disorder, obviously including my favourite, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, eating disorders, and many, many more.

Anything to do with any kind of psychosis is completely off limits - when do we ever have a conversation about it in which the person experiencing the psychosis is talked about as if they are an actual person? If I were someone who thought I was experiencing some kind of delusions or a psychotic break for the first time, I would absolutely not tell a single soul. I’d think I was a freak, because nobody ever says that actually, people with psychotic disorders can leave relatively normal, healthy, fulfilling lives if they are given the correct support - instead we conjure images of straitjackets and padded cells. People think that eating disorders are things that only affect teenage girls and which are grown out of by the time they mature into adulthood, and let me tell you, no part of that is true. People whose lives are negatively affected by obsessive compulsive disorder don’t seek help because a bunch of closed minded but highly organised people play themselves off as being OCD, and assume that they too are simply sticklers for organisation. I’m always very reticent to tell people I have borderline personality disorder because I’m worried that people will confuse it with dissociative identity disorder, think I’m not in touch with reality, and then treat me completely differently/much worse. I think that says it all really.

And the point is - everyone who suffers from these conditions is still a valid person with aspirations, desires, strengths and weaknesses, a personality that is actually likeable, at least to someone. We still treat people with these kinds of issues as outsiders, as less worthy than those that experience the world in the “normal” way, and there’s no reason for that. It’s not just for psychotic disorders, for the vast majority of conditions, people can live somewhat normal lives with the right support - and you might not even know that they had any kind of disorder. I’m quietly confident that you wouldn’t know I had borderline unless I told you (although, you’d have to know what it was in the first place). Sure, maybe you’d think that I had a slightly melancholy disposition sometimes, or that I occasionally handle my close personal relationships somewhat poorly, but you’d still note me down with in the boundaries of whatever notion of “normality” you might have. I even think there’s a lot to learn from talking to people with mental health issues. I’m exceptionally lucky to live in a very, very privileged place and have a very privileged life in general. Maybe it’s arrogant or missing the point of me to say, but I think the majority of people I know here have had to struggle for very little in their lives. But the people I know who have mental health issues - they have gone through weeks, months, years at a time of struggle. They’ve learned a lot about themselves and the world around them in the process, and I think that that is really interesting and valuable to me - and I’d suggest it ought to be valuable to you too.

Back to being in public, obviously my boy Pete Davidson is doing a great job of talking about BDP using his platform, and giving an honest account of his struggles and experiences, and that brings me a lot of hope. Unfortunately, he’s the only person that springs to mind, and he’s not a household name in the UK - and even if he were, I suspect that certain readers of this blog would find him deeply unfunny. And of course, Kanye is running for president, which probably will be a blog post in its own right. His mental health and experience with bipolar disorder are now very much on the tongue of every snarky Tweeter and woke thinkpiece journalist, and there are good and bad aspects to that. I’m glad to see people having a conversation in public about mental health, that isn’t about depression and anxiety. I am much less glad to see that it is everyone else initiating the discussion about a person’s mental health, and not the person themselves. I find a lot of Kanye’s politics deplorable, and mental health is never an excuse for being a shitty person, and hurting other people in the process of your own self-destruction - but I would really like to see Kanye turn it around, and use his large and somewhat unique platform to talk more openly and honestly about his experiences with bipolar, so that he could actually help people. Because for whatever reason, far more people listen to Kanye than listen to what I say on this blog.