As I find myself watching another television show for Mental Health Week I find myself experiencing some ambivalence. While I'm all in favor of attempts to break down ignorance and stigma in order to help us all learn more about mental health, I wonder if there are possibly some unintended consequences of these efforts. For example what does it feel like for people experiencing mental illness to have what might seem like a prolonged focus on their illnesses over the last week or so?
Does the way mental illness is presented help those experiencing it feel better about it? Does it help them to feel more confident talking about it with people they might not normally share their experiences with? Does it help them learn anything more about their illness? Does it mean others make themselves more available or are more supportive to them? Or could it risk making them feel worse about their illness? Does it highlight the challenges they face and remind them of how hard it is living with a mental illness? Does it risk making them feel more isolated, more alone?
Mental health issues, unlike physical health issues, are really not clear cut. It can be hard to know, even for professionals, at what point mental health difficulties tip into mental health disorders. There's no x-rays or blood tests that can diagnose or let us know for sure whether we have the condition or not. It's not always obvious to ourselves or others whether we have a mental health issue. How much is just part of our temperament or a reaction to an event or situation we have found ourselves in? At what stage does it become a problem when we feel distressed or sad? Some of the television shows try to tease this out but I wonder if it might leave us more confused than ever. Efforts to find humor in situations related to mental health issues are walking a very fine line between destigmatising and stigmatising. Does it risk further reinforcing that it's the "other" that experiences mental health issues, not "us"?
No doubt the impact of the week will be analysed and reports developed to let us know how successful it was. Money has been raised and people will no doubt be talking about mental health in ways they haven't talked about it before. Let us just always be mindful that many of us, and our families, will be affected by mental health issues.
We all experience mental health and we are all at risk of experiencing mental illness. Talking more openly about mental health and mental illness may be part of the solution to difficulties we experience but it's important to remember that there are many underlying factors which place us at risk of mental illness. Perhaps in the future, we could start to talk about aspects in our community which place us more at risk of mental illness. Factors like feeling disconnected or isolated from each other, experiencing racism or being bullied, experiencing abuse or violence all place us at risk of mental illness. These are things we also need to do something about.
As someone who suffers multiple mental illnesses, I was unaware of the mental health week!!!
I think it brings to light the issues, the risks, the stigma and the treatment for mental illness.
We should all be aware of these factors.