Eclectic Blue

Don’t worry (or suffer from mental illness), be happy.

0 Comments 11 January 2018

Don't worry (or suffer from mental illness), be happy.

“How did you cure your depression?”, asked the radio presenter of an alleged depression sufferer.

“Oh, I decided to be happy!” came the reply, thereby completing the most idiotic media exchange on mental health I have ever heard.

Imagine discussing a very different illness.

“How did you cure your cancer?”

“I imagined it away.”

We wouldn’t take the latter particularly seriously, would we, so why should we take seriously the former? In a previous professional life I came across many people who suffered from mental health conditions you would not want to inflict on your worst enemy, dreadful lifelong conditions that simply cannot be cured, just treated to a sometimes manageable level but more often than not completely unmanageable. I saw a number of people who grappled with OCD and even the so called mild version manifested itself in ways you could not imagine. How about a shower that took up four hours of your day or house tidying that could never be right or complete? I met others who were utterly crippled by the illness and would always be, partly because of cuts to mental health spending, partly because of the perception, promoted in some quarters, that mental health was somehow a choice. But mainly because it was pretty well incurable.

Who on earth would choose to be mentally ill? Because it’s so much fun, isn’t it, to grapple with a condition which has absolutely no positives? Who could not enjoy staying in bed all day because the prospect of getting up was simply too distressing and depressing? What a laugh it must be preparing for a day when your OCD will consume every single ounce of energy you possess? How fulfilling it must be to know that you will never achieve anything professionally, you might never have children, you will never be able to enjoy a “normal” social life, you might never go on holiday. There are so many “might nevers” it’s hard to know where to end.

And still, despite the overwhelming evidence, some people assume, pretend, perhaps, that mental health can still be cured by “snapping out of it”, “pulling yourself together” and “choosing to be happy”. It is simply idiotic. Ask anyone with the very slightest understanding of depression and they will say that for much of the time they are happy. The opposite of being happy is not severe clinical depression. It’s being unhappy. As someone who has put up with that wretched condition for all of my adult life and much of my childhood, who has been in and out of hospital, of GP surgeries and psychiatrist chairs, the idea that I might be too depressed to laugh at, say, Fawlty Towers is absurd and a pathetic misunderstanding of the illness.

When I heard the radio interviewer ask the most stupid questions imaginable I despaired. People would be listening to this rubbish, drawing an entirely erroneous conclusion from the discussion. It reinforces the woeful levels of ignorance that condemn the mentally ill to a lifetime of misunderstanding and mis-diagnosis. If only the cure for illness was the power of the mind, we wouldn’t need doctors or hospitals. The trouble is that whilst the power of the mind is pretty awesome, illness is illness and ignorance is still ignorance.

The “pull-yourself-together-because-I-did” argument has nothing to do with illness. One day we might grasp this simple truth but even in 2018, it’s not easy to convince some people of the truth.

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