Yesterday I read a recent article on mental illness. The article discussed the unfortunate and continued views of some folks who believe that someone’s mental state should not be taken too seriously, if a person is able to continue to operate as they would do normally in their day-to-day lives. Whether it’s to leave the house every morning to go to work, take the kids to school, get the shopping in, take the p*ss out of the mates / boss, go out with the lad and / or girls that night. According to some, if you’re able to do any of all of the above, you’re most certainly in a tip-top mental state!.. Sadly for many coping with signs of mental illness, this is completely and utterly not the case.
Whilst the opinion of the writer of this particular article was supportive of exactly the opposite (a good read https://themighty.com/2017/01/high-functioning-social-anxiety-mental-illness/), it made me question why in a society where we are meant to be more supportive and understanding of mental issues, is there still an opinion out there which tries to unfairly judge – and worse still, to potentially cap, marginalise and hinder the support of those who need it? Some of us may well be struggling to identify and may not recognise the signs or feel they can speak out about what we or they are feeling. Sadly, does this not therefore further exasperate the problem further?
If correctly diagnosed, those suffering with severe mental illness or perhaps substance and alcohol addictions may well be prescribed time in rehabilitation or specific medication to help them overcome these illnesses. Yet there is often a road which leads to such a severity in illness. Even if someone suffering is able to recognise this and to accept they might need help, they need to feel comfortable in coming forward. So how does this encourage the functioning sufferer of anxiety / depression / addiction to step forward and ask for help, when perhaps they still struggle to understand whether they have an issue themselves? It is often the people you least expect, who suffer behind close doors – yet you would often never know it.
Some people suffer from attacks of anxiety or a feeling of just not wanting to get out of bed in the morning – when they used to be a confident, outgoing, active individual. Studies report that nearly 20% of Americans (and that’s a bloody big population!) are impacted directly by such disorders, yet nearly half of those do not receive any treatment. Does this tell us people are still too afraid to speak out and seek help? Perhaps the fear of being judged – and if so, by who and at what parameters – is the biggest deterrent of us being able to ask for help.
From my own experiences, I have seen how the afflictions of mental illness are not only vastly different person-to-person in terms of symptoms experienced – yet also their own reactions and how it these are handled by the individual. However the one consistent thing I’ve witnessed in these circumstances – including my own personal attacks of anxiety – is the desire to continue with “normality” and to try not to let relationships, friendships, work or fitness be impacted. It is often a major factor in how we behave and often struggle to either cope or even recognise what we are feeling. It is the continued level of pressure that we place upon ourselves, coupled with the perceived judgement of others – which whip us in to a state of “manning up / just getting the F on with it”. I’m sure some of us may have even been told to do so before…
Historically mental suffering was once was seen as a stigma. Now that I am (supposedly) an adult, I can clearly recognise that my late mother suffered bouts of anxiety and depression. My mother loved to sing, to dance about, had a wicked sense of humour, was the life and soul of any party. Yet she often suffered huge self-confidence crisis’ out of nowhere. She would wake late in the night with chest pains, an inability to breathe – with what are now recognised as panic attacks – and spent many days, sometimes weeks in bed, feeling lethargic and inexplicably unwell. Yet her ailments were to be blamed on a chronic fatigue / immune deficiency illness. None of which was categorically proven, however we’re talking over 20 years ago. Mental illnesses were still largely understood so it seemed and with perhaps even still a derogatory view, so this seemed like a reasonable enough explanation at the time, right? Sadly for my mother, she passed before this public perception changed. Could she have received better and more appropriately prescribed support, if only her illness could be correctly identified at the time?
The positive now is that society has progressed way ahead in its thinking and certainly we are much more cognisant of our mental health, mindfulness and knowing how to come forward for advice and counselling should we need it. So it’s disappointing to hear that medics are still debating this final point – and at what point a person should or shouldn’t feel that something might be up.
Sometimes our triggers are unknown. Perhaps a relative or friend who has passed or is really sick could be the initial cause for increasing stress levels. Maybe there are struggles at work or in a relationship. You don’t know how to fund the ever increasing school / college fund. Perhaps even something more seemingly mundane to many… like you’ve not been to the gym for a few days more than normal, you feel like you’re not contributing enough to the household financially, you’re worried about THAT presentation, a meeting with a friend who always makes you feel just that bit shitty about yourself. Maybe it’s a combination of many things, or actually the absolute supposed “minutia” of life that is taking it’s toll and we’ve absolutely no idea why…. But why the hell when we know ourselves better than anyone, should we even question, let alone deny ourselves, from seeking help – no matter the cause of stress or the level of impact?
Another person’s state of mind cannot be measured. There should be no cap and certainly there is no specific benchmark for the significance of someone’s problems, or how they are coping with these. I’m not saying we need to get ourselves down to the docs or our therapist if we missed the bus that morning (!), but we know ourselves better than ever and whether we are feeling right. It is all relative to how we think and feel at the time, and in comparison to how we know we would normally feel and operate without concern. If we know something is wrong, no matter on what level, we should not feel the need to brave it out. Mighty steps have been taken to tackle the subject of stress, anxiety and mental health. Let’s hope now we can ensure we are not operating until we think asking for help has reached a level of “acceptability” and remove these barriers for anyone and everyone to reach out when they need to.
The question, when should we actually ask for help? Anytime, my friend. Anytime. If you feel you need help, go get it.