I wonder if it is just a coincidence that so many of my friends suffer from a variety of mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, stress, SAD – you name it, I know someone who suffers from it. That bastard black dog gets everywhere. Actually, I think it is a coincidence, much more than like attracts like. And if it is a coincidence, then we are facing an epidemic.
You want an update on me? Of course you don’t. The last thing you will want to read is a self-pitying, woe is me, how shit is my life blogpost, but then I do my best never to present you, my loyal reader, with anything like that. I try and tell it as it is, or rather as I see it. And I don’t see it too bad at the moment.
I’m coming out of a dip at the moment – I just know, you just do know, I can’t explain it – and all around me I have friends who are in various stages of issues, mainly depressive ones. But you’d never know. One of my friends hides it so well that s/he is the life and soul of the party. Always there with a quip, always there to ask how I am, performing an agile pick me up. And then they disappear into the night, which is always a very dark night, from which daylight is merely a fleeting glimpse of hope until the next dark night.
My black dog is not quite an old friend, but he – and it has to be a ‘he’ because, apart with the exception of Margaret Thatcher, most bad things started with ‘he’ – is someone I know and am, in some inexplicable way, almost comfortable with. Now that doesn’t make sense to you, does it, seeing your depression as a place where you are comfortable, but, crazy as it sounds, I am. I know where I stand with the black dog, I don’t know what life would be like without him, what would life be like without him? The unknown is a bigger fear than the known, even though the known isn’t a very nice animal.
And there go my friends, award winning actors one and all, some forced to struggle on at work by ambitious, conscience-free managers (and I knew a few of those when I worked for the DWP, although mercifully I rarely worked for them, certainly not in my last 20 years) who just cared about results, about getting their own performance bonuses on the back of the staff who actually do the work. Others forced out of their jobs – “We can’t have these weak people who keep bursting into tears, panicking and having breakdowns while the rest of us just get on with it.”
The worst thing about the mental health epidemic is that, to paraphrase Bachman Turner Overdrive, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If you find yourself ill with depression or anxiety, don’t expect therapy or counselling. Do expect drugs if you are not too bad, whatever that means, but remember that the next step from not too bad is sectioning, which excludes pretty well everyone who suffers. The public expenditure cuts to mental health spending mean that services have been pared to the bone and soon the bones will be chewed up, too. That’s because we allow the government to get away with it.
When we hear about the numbers of people with mental health illnesses, we sagely nod, we agree that “something must be done” and then we get on with it. Imagine if we felt the same about cancer? Imagine that everyone who was diagnosed with the vile killer that is cancer went to their GP and was told that the NHS could do something to save their lives, but we didn’t feel it worthwhile spending money to do it? Would we ever say something like, “You’ve got cancer? Why don’t you just get over yourself and get on with life. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I don’t think so. But society collectively nods its head and says exactly that to people whose lives have been affected and, in many cases, ruined by mental illness. I have a vested interest in this: my life has, to a large extent, been ruined by clinical depression and anxiety. It’s only because I have been surrounded by a loving family and friends that I have made it so far along the road. I’m one of the lucky ones. I am, to quote Alastair Campbell, the happy depressive.
It’s not about happy and sad. That’s the common, ignorant misunderstanding. I’m both of these when the situation demands. But sometimes, like many millions more, I am depressed.
And I’m fed up with politicians who tell us that they feel our pain. No, they don’t. They read about and hear about our pain but to them we are low in the food chain, too low to matter.
Friends, acquaintances and people I just happened to know have killed themselves because of mental illness. That’s the top end of the black dog. I don’t think I’ll ever be that desperate, at least I hope I don’t, but then I suppose none of the people I knew would feel that bad.
Every week should be mental health week. Things are bad and they’re going to get worse. If we’re in an epidemic now, I dread to think what will happen tomorrow.