Today is World Mental Health Day
. Less fun than Talk Like A Pirate Day but in its way covering a subject equally dominated by stereotypes albeit less fun ones than one legged men growling ‘argggh Jim Lad!’ Part of the reason for World Mental Health Day is to breakdown those stereotypes and to demystify the whole issue of mental ill health. For some reason when the topic of mental illness is raised the image of some poor soul in an asylum seems to be the automatic response.
Associating mental illness with insanity is rather like associating physical ill health with cancer. It happens. It’s a part of the story. But it’s by no means the whole of the story.
There are millions of mentally ill people all over the world. I guarantee that at some point in your life you WILL have known someone who was mentally ill. You may even have known someone who was severely mentally ill. You may have known it but you might not. They might not. Mental illness is one of the great taboos that still exists and while it is still stigmatised the people who need help the most will remain the least likely to seek it.
My family are quite fortunate in terms of physical illness. There’s no history of breast cancer, diabetes, or glaucoma and although both my grandfathers died relatively young they were both heavy drinkers and heavy smokers. Both my grandmothers are still alive and both physically hale and hearty.
However mental illness is extremely common in my family: chronic depression on the one side with delusional behaviour and dementia on the other side. My mother, my sister, and my stepfather all suffered nervous breakdowns during my childhood and adolescence. My mother has suffered from chronic depression her entire life. During my teenage years she suffered paranoid delusions that she was responsible for all the terrible things in the world.
I’m not going to lie and say that her mental illness, which ranges from moderate to severe, didn’t affect my sister and I. It did. But my mother did the very best she could in incredibly difficult circumstances and it was enough. She raised two children who are decent, caring, and responsible people.
My mother’s mental illness does not define her anymore than a physical disability would define her. She’s a strong, intelligent, loving person who simply happens to have an illness. So please the next time that the topic of mental illness is raised, whether its depression, dementia, schizophrenia or something else, remember that it’s just an illness. Please think of the people doing their very best to live regular lives and look after their loved ones.