In this current liberal social environment, there are very few subjects that most people won’t tackle in general conversation.
People now talk openly about topics that would only have been whispered about a few years ago, and certainly not raised in mixed gender group discussions. Social issues such as sexual assault, violence against women, incest, modern day slavery, use of illegal drugs, M-rated video games and a host of other subjects are spoken about openly. This openness serves to educate, inform and raise awareness, resulting in many social changes for the better. Unfortunately, these discussions become uncomfortable when a mental health discussion starts.
By having a mental health discussion with a sufferer, we are taking a mirror to our own mental state, and making unfounded comparisons. Undergoing counselling with a trained psychologist can address these fears and help people develop a more understanding attitude. As science continues to explore the human brain and how it functions, it has become very apparent that mental illness is not something that a person chooses voluntarily.
There are also a multitude of causes, some hereditary, some resulting from trauma, both mental and physical, others caused by a chemical imbalance and many others simply unknown at this stage. With every new discovery about the brain comes greater understanding and sorrow for past attitudes. For example, thousands of returned servicemen from WWI and WWII in particular, were branded cowards or malingerers, suffering what we now know to be post traumatic stress disorder. They were treated badly by a straight-laced society completely unable to have an open mental health discussion.
There should be no social stigma attached to someone with a mental health problem, and in fact, many people in recovery welcome the opportunity to explain their condition as part of their therapy. To have a work colleague, friend or family member willing to listen to their experience assures the person that they are worthwhile, their struggle was worthwhile and society is ready for them to step back into whatever role they choose. Pretending it didn’t happen or brushing them off can leave them feeling frustrated and empty.
While any mental health discussion should be undertaken with sensitivity, to leave it unacknowledged is like the proverbial elephant in the room – glaringly obvious but ignored so it won’t be noticed. People readily share their recovery stories about other health conditions such as cancer, so mental health should be no different. If it is too difficult, but needs to be addressed, a psychologist can provide people with the tools they need to comfortably address the issue.
Living and thriving in today’s complex society is difficult enough, but people with mental health issues find it doubly so. It is time to break the chains, remove the stigma and treat mental health with the same honesty and openness as we approach the rest of our health.