14/02/15 How should we talk about mental health?

Let me count the ways…

The other day, I stumbled across a piece linked to Ted Talks with the same title as this blog.

My first reaction?

Agitation.

Who are they to say…?

Bloody patronising…

Where are the voices of people who’ve actually experienced a mental malady…first hand…up close and personal…

However…

A little reading between the lines…in fact, a little reading of the actual lines reveals that a number of the folk who wrote the piece have lived experience of a mental malady…

So – hobby-horse dismount.

The truth of the matter is – no matter what their background is or was – they are people – and people have a right to express an opinion on anything – including mental ill health.

What if they get it wrong?

They’ll cause untold damage – it’ll make the whole situation worse – what if their thoughts are borne out of ignorance, stigma and prejudice? What if…?

Ok, let’s pop those pitchforks and torches back in the cupboard…and breathe…

They, being human types, will get it right and, they will get it wrong, for exactly the same reasons.

For those of you who haven’t taken a look, the main rules they set down are…

‘End the Stigma’

‘Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness’

‘But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide’

‘Avoid words like “Crazy” or “Psycho” ‘

‘If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience of mental health, by all means, do so.’

‘Don’t define a person by his/ her mental illnesses.’

‘Separate the person from the problem.’

‘Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all.’

‘Recognise the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences.’

‘Humour helps.’

All good stuff – but under close scrutiny – the ideas are both brilliant and a pile of old bollocks in equal measures.

It all depends on time, place, the people involved, and where they’re at.

Stigma and prejudice exist. There is no question about that.

None.

I could talk about the 30 thousand people, with a mental health problem, who have died prematurely from preventable physical conditions…

I could talk endlessly about a benefits system that seems Hell bent on punishing claimants – a group hugely over represented by folk with a mental malady – through sanctioning – that is, stopping someone’s benefits – for up to 3 years – or through the bedroom tax – or through the abolition of the independent living fund – or through the massive cuts in legal aid, and social services.

I could talk about how suicides in the UK have increased from approximately 5 thousand to 6 thousand people a year under austerity measures…

Or the disproportionate cuts in mental health services…

Or the ongoing promise of parity of esteem with physical health services. Where people with a physical malady are promised a maximum of 18 weeks between diagnosis and the start of their treatment – for people with mental health problems there is no guarantee of anything – not even a service.

To reiterate – there are people known to have mental health problems by the authorities who have been offered no treatment whatsoever.

We have organisations, like MIND, advising us not to divulge that we have a mental health problem when we apply for jobs because of fear of discrimination.

That’s even with legislation in place that’s supposed to protect us from prejudice.

Or…or…or…

It’s relentless.

So, you can understand when people with a mental health problem, malady, illness…whatever you want to call it, become defensive, occasionally offensive, in response to the use of less than flattering language.

They, we, I have grown up in a society that has become increasingly stigmatising…with such cultural attitudes bouncing about, it’s no wonder that self stigma – yes, the inclination to mentally batter oneself because of their mental condition – is on the up.

People with mental health problems often keep it to themselves – as much as they can – because, on top of the pain of the condition, there is the burning embarrassment and shame for having this, this…whatever it is.

So who can blame people for trying to come up with some rule book of how to speak to people with mental health problems?

These rules of engagement look good on paper, don’t they?

But I think that it instills fear in the masses that they’re going to say the wrong thing, in the wrong way at the wrong time.

This is where your mental malady sufferer can come into their own. I know it’s a huge thing in a culture with all the nonsense above – but…

DON’T GO OUT OF YOUR WAY TO TAKE OFFENCE.

I’d go one step further, but this takes quite a leap of faith..

DON’T TAKE OFFENCE

Don’t spin out if someone uses words you don’t like – or feel you shouldn’t like…

Like mental illness, or mental health problem, or crazy, or nutter, or loony bin, or mental…or the zillions of others that are bandied about.

When people start speaking to you about the ‘M’ word, this is a faltering, fragile relationship. One that could go either way.

BUT

Political correctness is a good thing. Trust me, it is.

The idea was hatched because of a belief that people should show each other respect.

It didn’t come about with a desire to wrong foot people who’ve inadvertently used the wrong word for something.

The current state of affairs seems to involve a set of traps, primed to unfoot the unwary.

The pious smile

The ‘oh dear’

The question at the beginning of all this seems to be directed at ‘normals’ who may want to speak to those sporting a mental malady.

This is not one way traffic.

How should you talk to someone without a mental malady?

People whose only frame of reference is the steady drip feed of stigmatising nonsense from the various medias that pedals fear –

if not, that describes the head clutching victim in need of patronage –

if not, that sells us stories of the plucky celebrity who has reached the peak of success in the face of adversity-

If not…fill in the rest from your own experience.

It’s not surprising then, that when met with someone who purports to be of a loony ilk, the first reaction of many is to think or to say…

‘But you don’t look like one…’

The polite response is to say, ‘Were you expecting a trapdoor in my forehead where the cuckoo goes in and out?’

If we want things to change we must work together – whoever we are.

We are all in this together.

Where the politicians and media have failed, the responsibility to talk lies with all of us.

Walk a mile

Chris

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