A personal view on attitudes surrounding mental health problems
by Anastasia Cojocaru
I am not only writing this article on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, but I am writing it for everyone who has ever experienced or is experiencing mental health problems and I hope putting down on paper my point of view will also help me reconcile with a part of myself that needs to be better understood and accepted. I am aware of the difficulty of tackling such a delicate topic and I will try to write this to the best of my ability. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or panic disorder should not be surrounded by stigma anymore and should be talked about openly as they affect most people at one point in their lifetime.
Mental health problems are more common that you might imagine with the World Health Organization predicting that by 2030 depression will be the dominant cause of disease burden globally. Mental health issues are the result of both environmental factors (a stressful job, a traumatic childhood, or bullying at school) and a genetic predisposition inherited from the family. These two interact in different ways for each individual and they are not mutually exclusive. In a lot of cases, there is a combination of both. Of course, one individual with a genetic predisposition might have been brought up in an environment safe from harm, but that does not imply that they will not experience mental health problems in their lifetime. The same can be said for vice-versa. Anyone can experience mental health issues and each case is unique, even if there are similarities regarding symptoms of individuals when struggling with mental health problems. If you want to find out more have a look here.
Next, I want to point out something of crucial importance: mental health problems are just like having a broken leg, only that they are invisible to the people surrounding the individual who has them. People usually have trouble dealing with something that they cannot see. In Darkness Visible, William Styron compares the state of the individual experiencing depression to ‘the situation of the walking wounded’ and points out that if it were the case of a physical, visible illness, the patient would be carefully cared for, their invalidism being ‘necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained’. Instead, individuals experiencing mental health problems are supposed to behave as if they are not wounded inside and perform their usual tasks, such as socialising perfectly in day-to-day situations. However, it is a struggle to keep up the appearance of their former self when they are unwell. From my own experience and from what I have gathered by talking to people who have had similar experiences, it is very difficult to get out of a state of depression or anxiety on your own, when you are experiencing it. Staying trapped in that state is not a willing choice because, at that point, motivating yourself to get out of that state is tough, if not impossible sometimes, especially when the state hits you with no apparent reason.
Reaching out is what helped me and I hope it will help many others to find the courage to do it even if it is tough to get out of that state and seek help. Seek support in friends and family who you think might understand what you are going through, do more sports, go to counselling and get treatment if needed. It is all perfectly fine. If you want to find out more about how to tackle mantal health problems then have a look at this World Health Organisation report here. Do not worry if you lose some friends when you reveal yourself as experiencing mental health problems. If they pull back it means that they might not have the ability or resources to understand and deal with people experiencing mental health problems.
As for everyone in the society, I truly hope that mental health first aid courses will become more widespread and will be sought out and taken by more people because there might be someone right next to you who needs you to really mean it the next time you ask them ‘How are you?’.