September 11, 2013

HollyThe thing about mental illness is that it can affect anyone. The other thing about mental illness is that it is largely a silent sickness.

No matter what age you are, what gender you are, if you are rich or poor, married or single, mental illness does not discriminate.

According to the Mental Health Foundation 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in any given year, so why does nobody talk about it?

What if 1 in 4 people got measles in any given year?

Can you imagine the news headlines if experts estimated that 1 in 4 people will suffer from measles within any given year? Campaigners would go out and raise awareness about the risk of contracting measles and what to do if you notice symptoms.

Experts would undertake risk assessments and emergency procedure assessments, and just about any other assessment that you can think of. If you contracted measles or someone you know happened to get it, would you be embarrassed about it?

Could you expect the same response if you had depression?

When you pass Mrs Jones-from-three-doors-down in the street, would you invent a story to explain why you haven't been out of the house for a while? Or would you just come out and say it : I've had the measles. Chances are that Mrs Jones would say something along the lines of " Oh you poor dear ! I hope you're feeling better now."

Could you expect the same response if you told her that you haven't left the house for the past week because you had depression? Would you even tell her that you had depression?

That's why mental illness is the monster in the room

That is the reason that mental illness is the monster in the room. It is not the elephant in the room. Elephants are too noisy. They draw too much attention to themselves. Mental illness is a monster. It is a monster without a voice box.

It sits silently in the corner of your living room and you cover it with a throw, much like you would do an ugly sofa. When someone visits they know that the sofa underneath the throw is ugly. They want to lift the throw aside to see how bad the sofa underneath really is - is it a beige monstrosity, or a yellow velvet number? But they won't look under that throw.

You might be tempted to lift it up for them and say "look at this horrible sofa," but you won't do it. Because then you would have to talk about the sofa and how bad it is. Maybe your visitor has a horrible sofa at home as well, but they cover theirs up with a patchwork quilt. They don't want to admit to their own couch inadequacies because you won't admit to yours.

To that daily battle we add the struggle to keep the monster hidden

That silent monster follows you around and you are constantly finding new ways to cover it up. One day it sits in your handbag like a miniature Chiwawa, the next you try to hide it under your shirt. Each day the silent monster grows and mutates. Each day it is a battle to get from one moment to the next because of the monster. Even the small things seem like mountains to climb. Yet to that daily battle we add the struggle to keep the monster hidden.

What if we were to uncover the monster? How can we expect Mrs Jones-from-three-doors-down to discuss our depression if we won't even admit to it ourselves?

You have to make the first move

It is all very well and good to say that people should talk about mental illness but who is "people"? The thing is, someone has to make the first move. We can support campaigns from the sidelines all we want, but someone has got to start that process. That someone is not going to be a person who has no experience of mental illness. That someone has got to be a person who has lived it. Someone else cannot come and uncover your silent monster because you are the one who has hidden it.

You have to make the first move and pull it out from under the bookshelf or from behind the TV, or wherever else you have hidden it today. You have got to seize hold of it and push it into the daylight. However scary, painful or embarrassing that may seem. Only when it is out in the light can we see what it really is. Who knows, maybe someone else has a matching monster. Maybe you can share tips on how you deal with it. Maybe you will even inspire someone else to uncover their own silent monster and give it a voice. Only then can we hope to create an atmosphere of open discussion about mental illness and only then can we hope to reduce the stigma which surrounds it.

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