We may have done away with electroshock therapy and barred windows, commonplace lobotomies and female hysteria, yet the stigma encasing mental health is horrifically prevalent. Self-harm is mocked as a teenage cliché. Admitting to seeing a counsellor or therapist sounds ridiculous. Being ‘fucked up’ is alluring. Strait jackets are Halloween costumes. Akin to feminism, depression, and the entire umbrella of mental health, has become a dirty word.
The dictionary definition of depression reads “a mental state characterised by feelings of continual gloom and inadequacy.” Yet this description of a crippling illness has been disfigured. “I feel depressed”… because of (insert reason here: your text/that movie/the shop not stocking my favourite chocolate) has become commonplace in our language and thus confuses menial sadness/disappointment with genuine melancholy (which is then greeted with the obligatory “you’re being… dramatic/attention seeking/grumpy”).
Ignorance and definition abuse are not the only problem with society’s misconception of mental health. It seems engrained in our culture that physical ailments are far more important and severe than any illness associated with the mind. Are we, as human beings, still stupid enough to believe that if we cannot see it, then something fails to exist? Perhaps I am going too far but I am almost certain that if I went to A&E with a severe case of depression, I would not be treated as fast as the patient with the broken finger. After all, what is more urgent, a fractured digit or suicide? Mental illness, in many cases, can be a life threatening disease, yet is it treated in a similar manner to other terminal illnesses?
The taboo does not stop there, alongside the lacerating symptoms of a mental disorder, there is the shame and isolation which comes only too freely (woo!). Try talking to someone about the hurt and hopelessness you are experiencing, and often you will find awkward squirms, eye rolls with the silent sigh of ‘here she goes again, dramatic rant’ or the opinion that anything can be fixed with a can-do spirit and a plucky attitude: “Just think positively and all this will go away!”
One in four will be affected by a mental health issue in a year. Suicide is the most common killer of men under the age of 35. Over 80% of those with clinical depression are not receiving specific treatment. Society and the economy are ill-equipped to deal with such a disease (and look out – it’s on the rise!). I am well seasoned in doctors, physiatrists, psychotherapists and psychologists; both private and on the NHS. And in both sectors, I have experienced ridiculously long waiting lists, insensitive forms, inaccurate diagnoses and ill-trained staff; “do you mind if I record the session for my supervisor? Can you speak up a little; the camera isn’t detecting your voice?”, “watch your mother cry through a two-way mirror”, “your illness must be due to bereavement, change or relations with those around you.” – (this was then followed by a sense of guilt as the ‘reason’ behind the way I was feeling did not fit into any of those aforementioned boxes). Psychiatry may be a money-making scheme to prey on the vulnerable to fork out 80 pounds an hour to discuss a dream they can analyse themselves (thank you very much). And even if sessions are useful, the fact that demand exceeds supply is still very vivid. Being granted a mere 6 slots of one hour per week will not untangle a harrowing illness, it is a waste of the time for the patient and the professional. This is a long-term illness without a long-term solution. It is vital that the government re-think their approach to mental health. There are more sufferers than there are helpers. A victim of depression may not be able to wait 8 months for aid without causing severe harm, and this needs to end.
I do not mean this to be a long-winded and pessimistic rant of self-pity. But as someone who has been diagnosed, I feel I am entitled to speak my grievances. I do not know if a shorter waiting list would have prevented my dropping out of school. I do not know if an expert psychologist would have thwarted acts of self-harm. If I had not been persistently told that ‘it was all in my head’ or ‘to try harder’ then maybe my self-loathing would have decreased. Perhaps if my friends and family had been understanding, there to listen and to help, and generally educated in mental health, I would still be as disheartened and lost as I am today. But I am sure that the above would have acted as some sort of support or comfort; relieving if only a little bit of the hurt which depression patients find practically inescapable. And that assistance or reassurance can make all the difference.
Depression is not a clichéd, trite, insignificant drain on resources – it is an illness, just because it is inside the cranium does not make it any less cancerous, bloodied or agonising. And if you still think all this is merely off-your-rocker-round-the-bend-foolish-melodramatic-weak-coward-pull-yourself-together-madness, then it is not the ‘mentally unsound’, but the attitudes towards them, which are the real insanity.