Let's play a word association game...
small town – mentality
truth – hidden
mental illness – shame
Don't be quick to judge; this is not what I believe on some subconscious level. These are concepts that, at some point in my life, I have come across. But what I find frustrating, infuriating and inconceivable is that even in this day and age there are still people making these associations.
I grew up in a very small town for UK standards - about 30,000 people. Everybody knew everybody. Some may find this an endearing concept but trust me...when you are a child/teenager, endearing would be the last word you would use.
When I was a child I had a big “flaw”. I used to tell everyone exactly what I thought and I kept no secrets. Needless to say I brought my parents to an uncomfortable position several times.
And I was told many times that “you can't say that”.
And as I grew up I realised why some thoughts/things you had to keep to yourself.
But what I still can't understand is why people are afraid to speak about mental health, and the shame that is associated with it.
There were some people in my home-town whose last name I never found out. As a child I knew them by their first name; their first name accompanied by the word “crazy”. As children, we yelled at them at the street, laughed at them and that was considered “normal”. Thinking about it now I feel extremely ashamed. These people were marginalised, their houses were derelict, their hygiene was poor, they were abandoned by their own families and instead of the community or the state offering help, other “normal” people were abusing them as they were walking down the street.
And then there were the “good” families. Families which you knew, perhaps you were even related to. And they had “secrets”. They had members who suffered from some kind of mental health problem but instead of openly speaking about it, instead of getting help for that person, they remained isolated within the four walls of their house. They would not seek professional help. And the reason? “So nobody would find out”. The result? You would see people being ostracised, their personalities fade away and you would witness families falling apart.
Perhaps I missed some crucial biology lesson. You see I thought the brain was part of our physiology. And I was under the impression that if we get physically ill, we go to the doctor. So why do we hide or lie when our brain gets ill? Why do people suffering from mental health problems need to suffer further from the burden of the stigma that is still associated with mental health?
Why can't we treat mental illness sufferers like human beings, and just be there to offer our help, support and love instead of our judgement?
All of us at some point in our lives have either experienced or known someone who has lived with a mental disease. And if we haven't so far, it is most likely that we will at some point in our near future. This is a sad fact, but it is nevertheless a fact. But there are other facts out there.
We live in an era where the scientific community has made incredible advances in the field of disease. We have a plethora of knowledge and information in our fingertips. The borders of our city do not longer constitute the borders of our lives and education.
I now live in London. A metropolis of millions. Some people hate it, but I love it. I have never felt so free in my life. I have never met so many people who will listen to you and not judge you. So many people who treat everyone equally. But don't get me wrong...I love my town. I just yearn for the day that I will go back and I won't be able to find not even one person living in silence as a result of mental health problems.