When I began writing this blog back in 2007 I wrote almost exclusively about mental health. Throughout those hundreds of posts describing my experiences of self-harm, depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar I would deliberately slip in numerous references to my life, loves and passion.
Since returning to the blogosphere earlier this year I have found my blog has shifted toward hundreds of posts describing my life, loves and passions with numerous references to my self-harm, depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar slipped in almost as an afterthought.
This week saw the National Mental Health Commission release its first Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in Australia; the conclusion being ‘Australia leads the world in Mental Health policy, but fails in its delivery’.
More than ever we need to talk about mental health in Australia. More than ever we need to start taking action to improve the lives of those dealing with mental illness in Australia.
So this month I’m shifting my focus back to my original mission statement and writing about mental health. The prompts I will be using for each daily post come from the National Health Blog Month initiative that ran throughout November 2012, a challenge that I unfortunately missed.
But it is never too late to raise awareness of mental health.
Day 1: Why I write about my (mental) health…
Every now and then I write about my pet peeves. This usually amounts to fun little posts of how I want to issue lines to anyone who mistakes your with you’re or spank the bottom of anyone who calls the show Dr Who instead of its proper title Doctor Who.
But I have never written about one of my biggest pet peeves.
A pet peeve so large that it threatens to unleash my inner-Hulk whenever I see it – which is often. In fact, I saw it yesterday splashed all over Twitter. I saw it last week in the pages of a newspaper. I see it everywhere I go and, seriously, I am tired of it. I am completely and utterly over it, so I’m just going to say it…
…there is nothing brave about talking about mental illness!
Or rather – before I am inundated with a stream of emails, comments and vitriol – it shouldn’t be considered brave to talk about mental illness; it should be considered normal.
When someone talks about their cold, are they considered brave? If someone writes a blog post about their daily insulin injections are they considered brave? On the occasions when a man takes to the interwebs to share their man-flu infection with the world, are they considered brave? No. They are considered normal or, in the case of the latter, a whiny little moron (and rightly so!)
Everything that falls under the diagnostic criteria of a mental illness – from self-harm to anorexia to anxiety – is, what a surprise, an illness. So why is it always considered brave of someone to talk about their mental health when someone discussing a bronchial infection, isn’t?
Because no matter how much we want to convince ourselves that the stigma against mental illness has been eroded, it hasn’t.
It is as strong as ever.
People dealing with a mental illness are still discriminated against when it comes to employment, education, friendship, relationships and accommodation. We have to hide our illnesses from all and sundry with clever online pseudonyms or direct face-to-face lying because we know we will not be accepted if the person across the table from us knows that half an hour ago we were self-harming in the shower.
For the last five years, on and off, I have written about my life. I have shared immensely personal information that I’d never told my partners or family, let alone friends or random strangers in the street and I have written it under my own name because it would have been hypocritical to do it any other way. But through it all, and despite the discrimination that has arisen from it, I have never considered myself ‘brave’ for what I do on this blog.
Stupid, maybe. But never brave.
I write about mental health because I dream of the day when it is considered normal to do so. Where I can freely admit to being bipolar in a job interview and still be in with a chance of getting that job. Where I can talk to potential girlfriends about my struggles with self-harm without fear they’re going to incorrectly classify me as a loser and do a runner. Where I can happily discuss my anxiety, body image issues or bipolar mood swings without people hurling barbed insults or direct abuse in my direction.
I write about mental health because the only way for this to happen is by turning the discussion of these issues into something normal instead of some heroic act of bravery.
Okay, before anyone comes down on me for being insensitive or not taking into account how difficult it is to discuss these issues in public…I get it. I really do! Do you think it was easy for me to write about my suicide attempts? To admit to deliberately igniting a box of matches in my hand or hacking off layers of skin because I irrationally hate my body? It wasn’t, none of it was. Which is why I have absolute respect and admiration for the army of people who have the courage to talk about their mental health problems with the wider world.
I have not written this post to attack anyone or belittle the strength we show when writing about mental illness. I have written it because I long to see the day when writing about, discussing or sharing stories of mental health is seen to be as normal as chatting to someone about the boil on your foot or the frog in your throat. A world where the stigma against mental illness and its related discrimination is a shameful moment of Earth’s past.
- Mental health care scores F for failure in first report card (smh.com.au)
- Wales News: Four AMs go public with their experiences of mental illness to fight stigma (walesonline.co.uk)
- Mentally ill lifespans too short-report (bigpondnews.com)