May 2018 sees the start of Mental Health Awareness month. I’m making an effort over on Twitter and Instagram to be more frank, speak my truth and show what mental illness looks like for me. I’ve been perusing the #mentalhealthawarenessmonth hashtag on Twitter particularly, and to be perfectly fucking honest, I am not very impressed.
I know it takes a lot for us to speak up. There seem to be a few half hearted tweets, possibly from those who don’t suffer with their mental health, reminding us that it’s ok to talk. I appreciate this, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference. I was expecting a lot more conversation and interaction. It all seems like lip service.
I am seeing limited visibility for people with mental illnesses other than anxiety and depression. There’s a core of a few very vocal and upfront people who suffer with borderline personality disorder, and I am grateful for their efforts in conquering the stigma they must face. I’m not seeing much from our brothers and sisters with schizophrenia, psychosis, eating disorders, PTSD, substance abuse and addiction, OCD. I understand that the stigma faced by those who suffer with these illnesses is far, far more intense than I could understand.
It must take a whole mountain of strength to even come to terms with some of these diagnoses, never mind talk about it to strangers on the internet. I am, however, very aware of my privilege. It sounds strange to call mental illness a privilege, but anxiety and depression are, in my experience, the two most talked about mental health disorders. If you want to talk about them, it is easier to do so. I’m not saying it’s easy. I know it is not easy. These disorders appear more ‘accessible’; they have links to human emotions that those who do not suffer can at least appreciate to some degree. Everyone feels misery and anxiety at times – granted, to suffer with anxiety and depression in the form of a mental illness is hugely different to the spectrum of ‘normal’ human emotion, but there is some link there. Some ability for people to empathise. Other disorders do not have that privilege, and appear frightening and unknown. We sometimes hear stories about individuals who suffer with schizophrenia or psychosis doing terrible things, and subsequently associate the disorders, rather than the individuals, with fear and otherness.
This month should be about that. It should be about us – the sufferers – helping to raise awareness of those even more marginalised than ourselves. Of those who cannot be a voice for themselves, such is the extent of their suffering.
To continue my ill-informed rant, there also appears to be a significant lack of diversity in the discussions I have seen about mental health so far this month. Largely, and this is not said with malice, young, white women. I am a young, white woman and as such I acknowledge my tremendous privilege over others. I am not seeing many stories about struggles with mental ill health from people of colour. I am not seeing those who are differently able, physically or mentally. I am not seeing voices from the LGBTQ+ community. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places – and it is my duty, as someone who speaks out about my mental health, to change that.
It is my duty to educate myself, seek out these stories, and try to understand. To expand my vision from that of my own experience. In order to comprehend the impact mental health has on the population, we need to hear from the whole population. Now is not the time to keep the conversation between ourselves – now is the time to expand it, to include those whose voice may be quieter.