I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

The whole thing is so ironic, I can’t help but laugh about it now. The professed key to me gaining back control of my life sent me down a vicious spiral, which if not reversed, could have ended it. To unravel that riddle for you: in early December I was put on new anti-convulsant medication for my epilepsy, the high dosage of which sent me into a deep depression and left me suicidal. I feel rather ridiculous and over-dramatic even typing that – my nickname is Perky for goodness sake…

I am not here to relay to you my every thought and feeling during this time – it is the weekend after all – but this dramatic shift in my behaviour and mentality taught me some valuable lessons. I, like so many of us, have had my fair share of second hand experience with depression and suicide. I have seen loved ones suffer and/or lose their battle. I have endured my own periods of sadness as a form of inevitable collateral damage. But I, like so many relatives and friends, am not a depressive. At least, not usually. If there has been any silver lining to my most recent debacle, it’s that I now get it. I thought I did before, but I didn’t.

Firstly, it is only with hindsight that I can write this. At the time I was too tired to take to the keyboard; that’s presuming I had anything to say. I was also far too immersed in a thick fog of nothingness to have anything to say. So consumed by my paranoid delusions and sense of nothing that I could’t comprehend for a long while that there was anything worthy of discussion. Nothing was wrong, other than with me, of course. Everything was wrong with me.

Many of you who know me will also probably be reading this thinking “really? I never noticed anything was up!” (or maybe you did, but I’m guessing you didn’t jump to this extreme). But it was. I also learnt this year then that it’s really quite easy to pretend nothing’s wrong. To show up just enough to make people think that you’re just “really busy at the moment”, when really you’re avoiding 8/10 plans only to find yourself in bed for the fourth day in a row, feeling lonely. As I’ve seen with people close to me who are on that downward spiral, this method works until the day it doesn’t. People then tend to wonder, I used to wonder, where the burn-out came from. What changed? Why, suddenly, can’t they get their sh*t together and stick to a plan? Selfish, lazy, self-indulgent. That’s what comes to mind all too easily. Turns out, they’d had a whole load of sh*t to get together every time they got out of bed for quite a bit longer than any of us realised. And if we’re honest, we didn’t really want to be made aware of the situation while they could still pretend everything was OK.

Upon reflection therefore, the most important insight I gained was rather oxymoronic: that the behaviour displayed during a time of mental illness is 100% out of the sufferer’s control (no, they can’t just ‘snap out of it’), but also: it’s not permanent, and in some cases it’s even avoidable. Things can be done to prevent affliction, and help those who do suffer conquer their battle. The problem is, the grand narrative still dictates that it is the sufferer’s fault, and little seems to be being done to help manage this quite probably manageable problem (easier said than done, I’m aware).

I’m no doctor but I’m also not oblivious to the fact that mental illness, just like obesity for example, is clearly on the rise. And just like obesity, mental-health problems may be (partly at least) a symptom of modern life. I am not talking about a complacency society in our times of relatively high standards of living. I am talking about: the added pressures that come with social media, and the 24/7 connection provided by technology; our obsession with material goods as an indicator of success; the chemicals that we pump into our bodies with the food we eat, and/or indeed the medication we take. The list goes on.

If you look at the status-quo, however, it appears we have no clue what we’re doing. While we’re definitely talking about our ‘feelings’ more, and that cannot be underestimated, we’re certainly not making any discernible effort to modernise the infrastructure of our society to match its changes. For instance, food stores (supermarkets, take-aways, restaurants) have pledged no commitment to make the customer aware of the hormones and chemicals that many of their products contain; nor are they under any pressure to do so. Furthermore, advertising companies know exactly how to make us want more, and are relentless in their campaign to move the goal-posts of success and fulfilment. And Instead of preserving the carefree innocence of childhood – an increasingly precious phase of life – primary schools spend their time preparing for exams, starting with KS1 tests, which children sit aged 7. To put that into perspective, in Germany children have only just started school at 7. These are examples of the many facets of modern life that are largely out of the individual’s control, yet have a colossal impact on our well-being. Logically then, altering sectors such as: food production, advertising, pharmaceuticals and education to act consciously, in a way that is supportive of our mental well-being, is a necessary tool of prevention. Sadly it appears that money-making and league tables still matter more.

Of course not all mental illness is preventable, and for those who suffer it is rarely due to their lifestyle choices. However, astonishingly, while mental health problems account for around 23% of disease in the UK, it only takes up 11% of the NHS budget.*  If we all agree that the situation is much like being hit by a car or having cancer, which the NHS deals with so effectively and admirably, surely the treatment of those who fall mentally ill should be covered proportionately by the budget.

Am I wrong? If not, then where is the evidence of any such alterations? So much for the commitment by politicians to concentrate on solving Britain’s mental health crisis, the policy which shaped many of the campaigns in the 2015 general election.

My experience seems so alien now, so distant and long ago that I am able to discuss it openly, even joke about it. But I’m excruciatingly aware that for many others those thoughts and feelings are a daily battle – and that’s no laughing matter. While I don’t begin to suggest that everyone should chemically induce their own mental instability, I do make a plea for a shift in attitude. A more active approach. One that is enlightened to the genuine suffering of those with a mental illness and one that provokes change. Just like obesity and other pervading social problems, such change must be top-down if it’s to prove effective. Hence as well as educating and looking after ourselves, we must put adequate pressure on the government and big companies to invoke the necessary changes to their methods of employment.

This is a problem far bigger and more systemic than someone’s inability to ‘pull themselves together’, and it sadly cannot be solved simply by ‘talking about it’. I’ll put my hands up and say that, until this year, I myself didn’t fully understand that.

*Figures as of 2015; sourced: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/verdict/has-government-put-mental-health-equal-footing-physical-health

Advertisements
I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?

 

Dear British and US media,

Please kindly stop isolating demographics and blaming results of democratic elections on certain groups of people. I get it. I too am here to defend the liberal assets of Western society and to celebrate the diversity that it ensues. And yes some people are attacking our increasingly lovely liberal world. And yes a lot of these people are older, stuck in their ol’ racist ways that are kind of ok at Sunday lunch, but not ok on the bus or when it comes to the ballot box. But since when does that give any of us the right to dismiss their opinion? Doesn’t that entirely contradict the liberal mind-set we spend our lives lording over everyone else? And how are we doing anything for our democracy if we think results shouldn’t count unless we agree? I think you can probably answer those questions yourself…

Let’s start with the elderly. Yes, I was indeed one of the thouands of millenials  who took to my facebook wall, to the safety of my opinion echo-chamber, to declare my outcry. If only 18-24 years olds’ votes were counted, it would have been a 74% vote for Remain! How dare the older generation ruin our future! They won’t even live to see the consequences!

Woops…This is why I refrained from further voicing of my opinions at the time.

First of all, 56% of the 45-54y/o category voted to leave actually. Akward. It would be barmy to suggest that a 45 year old would be unlikely to live through the consequences. These days someone of 45 years old has barely left their parent’s home…but that’s a whole other article. The people who had the most idea (who let’s face it had really very little idea)- the fact machines, or economists as some people call them – told us that it was in the short-mid term that we would experience most economic problems. Well then, I’d say that a 45 year old, hey even a 54 year old, was voting for their future then. In economic terms they have as great a vested interest in our country not going tits-up as we do. After all they have their dreaded pensions to save for. At this rate they won’t get one until they’re 80, so I can imagine they want our economy to be in a state that allows for them to receive one before they die. Moreover if we aren’t earning enough to provide for a family, how will we help our ironically pensionless OAPs? You get the gist. It was pure, selfish naivety to suggest that it was only our poor young souls who would be affected for better or for worse by the outcome of the referendum.

Other virile, bitter remarks were spat at our elders saying that they harked back to a ‘rose-tinted’ past; one which was no longer symbolised Britain as we know it today. I agree. But. Democracy. Just because we don’t all long for a Britain with Churchill (the PM, not the dog, kids) sings us rhetoric and butters us up with notions of imperial power and independence. Our different perspective doesn’t mean that their visions are less firm-footed or valid than ours. More importantly it doesn’t make ours more. For example: I wanted to stay so that I didn’t need a visa to see my boyfriend, who lives in the Netherlands. I’m sure I was not the only young person with personal reason that affected my vote at the cost of someone else’s preference. And just like I’m sure ol’ grandpa Joe didn’t just vote based on drunk Churchill circa 1940, I didn’t just vote based on my ability to hop over for a weekend in Amsterdam. Just as Brexiteers were fed lies about NHS funding and the like, I’m sure if Remain had won we wouldn’t have reaped many of the benefits promised, or.lol..World War 3 would still probably on the cards…

Basically, the EU referendum shouldn’t have happened in my opinion. As I’ve made perfectly clear above, none of us really had a clue what was going on, what was best. We still don’t apparently. I’m not sure that the courts, who ruled against the Government last week really have it sussed either… But the American election is a pretty crucial element of the US’s democracy. Preferably not to be missed, one could say. Similar problems have popped up with the American Presidential election this week, and henceforth my silence ends.

Although official stats aren’t out yet, it seems that, like with Brexit, young people wanted Hilary to win. Whilst I, like many others, had a little cry to myself on Wednesday morning, and thanked my lucky stars that my mum’s house in London has a basement, I do not think that Trump voters belonged to one demographic, who’s voice should have been silenced. In a way it’s kind of (not really, but urgh! I suppose it must be) magical to think that despite all attempts to degrade, shame and shut-down those who were rooting for him, their voice was still heard. Yet still on my facebook wall, after everyone went out to vote and play along with the system, I see cries of the election being unfair. Such voices included articles calling for the elderly to not be allowed to vote as young people were supposedly robbed of their futures. All I can think is how hypocritical, less that 24 hours after proudly posted you “I voted” sticker on instagram, you’re now slamming the system and other proud voters because you didn’t get your way? Almost as childish as Trump, really.

Disclaimer alert: I understand the horrific nature of the ‘Whitelash’ associated with the outcome of this US presidential election. I think that some of the opinions and acts that the result seems to have supported and sparked are disgusting. And I think it is truly sad that many minorities sad suffer greatly. As a white Brit I am aware that I am complacently writing about sulking and media coverage that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter all that much. I also understand the ideological stand-point behind the isolating the young’s vote in the media. We are in, general. more liberal; we have grown up in a much more diverse society than most in older generations. However in America, plenty of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, intolerant supporters were young. During the Brexit referendum (regardless of whether it should have happened) it was more than an issue of age which split public opinion.

Ultimately then it comes down to an issue of democracy. We can campaign and we can express express express our own opinions, and we can argue with the other side(s) until the cows come home. But it is in this way that we must change results, rather than refusing to accept the end result and asserting superiority of opinion. As liberals, we have sort of shot ourselves in the foot by being liberals, really. To be liberal, to believe in democracy (and I believe the two do go hand in hand), you’ve got to accept other sides’ opinions. In fact you’ve got to cherish them, absorb them, let them be expressed too. You can think something different, by all means, but you can’t silence them. You can think the opposition is full of abhorrence: passionately believe that the other person could not be more wrong, more vile, or more hateful. But it’s the isolationist, protectionist, conservative has chosen the easy side because they’re the ones who can live in ignorance. They can shut off any opposition, not us liberals.

So, fellow freedom loving, self-expressing millennials and media junkies. Stop excluding other demographics. Stop thinking that your problems, your priorities and your fears for the future are superior, and others are superfluous. Stop sulking. stop being hypocritical. Instead, why don’t we concentrate on moaning about our pathetic turnout. Maybe if we spread our positivepolitical expression more we will see progress that pleases us. We need to encourage the non voters to take an interest, and this cannot be done by sounding vulgar, deafening noises. Campaign is as important as elections, and the nature of a campaign is crucial. If we want less extremism, why don’t we appeal to greater human sensitivities such as compassion, instead of feeding off the poison of political point scoring.  Maybe then we’d make ours the hegemonic voice of the people. Or maybe we wouldn’t. But it’s not just the young, liberal person’s world. And that’s what sucks about democracy…

Thanks for listening. I hope you heard me.

From a loving millennial.

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?