Sometimes, as a clinical depressive, you know what is causing your latest dip. Other times, you don’t know. Both are equally troubling. Depression is complex and everyone’s black dog is entirely personal. I know what’s causing my latest dip and whatever I say and do I can’t do a damn thing about it, other than to take sick leave from work.
This blog is not a plea for help. I’m not in danger of doing anything stupid because although sometimes I don’t feel like it’s worth living, the desire to stay alive is far stronger. The problem is the difference between living and staying alive. So why am I pouring at least part of my heart out?
It’s partly because I can pour part of my heart out and, genuinely, so that other people know they are not alone with this bastard Black Dog. I hope the latter helps more than the former because I have very mixed feelings as to how mental health is regarded in Britain today.
I am glad that more and more people are coming forward to say that they have mental health issues and plenty of them have done so in recent years. It is good that they have publicised the condition and, in many cases, seen their mental health improve. Now I am going to say something you may regard as controversial: mental health is becoming a class issue.
What is there for me, a working class man on a modest pension and a somewhat less than modest salary from an employer? The answer to that is precisely nothing, except medication and a long waiting list to see a therapist or counsellor. I’m your run-of-the-mill severe clinical depressive and, in the eyes of society, as I am not an obvious danger to anyone, including myself, I just have to muddle along. Sorry of this all sounds self-pitying, but too bad. Society deems that suffering from severe clinical depression and anxiety is absolutely fine. I cannot imagine how such a situation would ever happen, or be regarded as acceptable, with physical illness. Well, it wouldn’t, would it? Contrast my situation and those of relatively modest means, which means most people and a wealthy sportsman or woman who falls foul of mental illness. The illness is clearly no better nor worse than the poor man’s illness, but the potential for treatment or even cure – these are entirely different outcomes – is greater depending on the size of your wallet and so are choices in life. Again, that is a direct result of the society we choose, a low tax, small(er) state above a slightly higher taxed slightly bigger state.
Are things better than they used to be? When I was around 12 years old and my mental health started to go badly wrong, I was taken to a child psychiatrist almost immediately, although it wasn’t until years later that my mother actually told me that this bloke I was seeing every Tuesday afternoon was actually a medical person rather than someone I just chatted to, as I hit a punchbag, kicked a ball around or drew things. But after school, I rather went off a cliff. I found out later, much later, that far from being “cured” as a teenager, I had merely been “treated”. I do not know what attitudes were like to mental health back in the 1970s because no one talked about it. People talked about someone who had “bad nerves” or who had a “nervous breakdown”, as if they were social pariahs. I suspect most people kept things to themselves and were regarded as being in different stages of eccentricity or downright madness. I thought that everyone might be like me but later realised that no one seemed to be.
So, what should be done? For starters, people who know nothing about mental health should learn about it, especially through the websites of the likes of MIND, the mental health charity and – wait for this one! – listen to the comments made by Princes Harry, William and Princess Kate in the “Heads Together” campaign. I can barely believe I wrote that, but the younger members of the royal family, who live in a surreal, almost fairytale lifestyle, have a greater understanding of mental health than many of us in the so-called “real world”. And I have one suggestion to employers in particular: treat people as individuals.
I am a firm believer that most, if not all, of us have some degree of talent in something. You would not ask a plumber to become an accountant, you would not ask a car salesman to become a brain surgeon. So why should everyone be treated the same in their lives in general and work in particular? Obsessive micromanagement might benefit one person (although I don’t know how) but it might be – it is – very damaging for someone battling with mental health issues, especially with regard to self-esteem and self-confidence.
As well as treating people as individuals, treat mental illness in the same way you’d treat physical illness. Treating mental illness is hugely beneficial not just for the person but to the whole country by way of an economy which doesn’t lose so much money. Sometimes, it can be just small adjustments and changes which can make all the difference.
Like many “mental cases”, I feel I have a lot to offer society, as have others with even worse conditions. We’re missing a trick if we pass up on all the talent that is out there because we can’t be bothered to treat people better. We know there is a problem but it is one things knowing about it and quite another doing anything about it.