‘I am totally mental, the men in white coats will be coming to take me away any day now.’
‘Talking with me for while is enough to give anyone depression.’
‘If you think you’re mad, I’m totally bonkers.’
Those are some examples of how some people have reacted to me when I told them about some of my mental health issues. I am not that surprised at the responses, but I am disappointed. Some people just do not take mental health seriously and see it as a bit of a joke. Someone even once said to me that a lot of people use mental health as an excuse, to get away with being more selfish or lazy!
Out of all mental health conditions I have experienced for myself, depression seems to one of the most trivialised and dismissed. The NHS Choices website states that ‘Some people still think that depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”. People often seem to miss use the word depressed, saying that they feel depressed, when they actually mean they feel very sad. Real depression is ‘when you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days,’ NHS Choices website. When I am depressed I feel like my whole world is collapsing around me and I cannot see the point in trying to do much at all, even getting dressed or washing seems pointless. I think why bother, it is not as if anyone will notice or care. Some people say things like ‘I had depression, but woke up one day and decided the depression was not going to win and I was going to get on with my life’. I know people who say things like that are trying to be helpful, but it just makes me feel worse, like I have failed yet again, as I am unable to flick a switch in my brain and not be depressed. People who say that clearly either never really had full blow depression or they were at the end stages of it anyway. When someone has depression unless you are a mental health professional who is actually that persons assigned councillor or therapist, offering advice is normally the last thing you should be doing, as it will probably not help much and could make the person feel worse. I would rather people just said that they care, they love me, they are there for me, they are not going to abandon me and to maybe offer me a hug.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is another condition to get silly reactions. I get the ‘just try to relax and not think about it’ one and I get the ‘everyone has routine and ritual that is just part of being human’ one. If it was that easy not to think about it, I would not suffer OCD in the first place! I agree, everyone has routines up to a point, but not ones that make this little sense and that slows you down to the point you are late for things or even miss them altogether. The one I hate the most though is ‘I’m a bit OCD’. No you are just organised, or a tidy person or just really like something. The charity OCD-UK explain it very well on their website:
‘As understanding and public awareness about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has grown, so has the use of the term ‘OCD’ as a description for some kinds of behaviour that are not related in any way to the actual condition. When people use the terms ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’ incorrectly, it leads to misunderstanding about OCD and belittles and trivialises the true suffering that the disorder can bring. As the internet and social networking websites have become more widely used, there has been an ever-increasing trend for people to refer to themselves as being a ‘bit OCD’. However, these obsessive or compulsive quirks, that last a brief moment, and rarely cause distress or any anxiety, do not warrant the label or a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which can actually leave a person debilitated for hours at a time.’
The responses I get for autism are generally not too bad. People say that they either could not tell at all, or that they guessed as much, but it really does not bother them. I do get tired of people assuming my maths skills must be fantastic, as they are not very good at all. I think I might even have dyscalculia which is a learning difficulty with numbers and maths concepts (a bit like dyslexia for maths). As one blogger puts it ‘Asking if we like math, computers, or numbers because we’re Autistic is like asking a Black or African-American if he or she likes watermelons or rap music because he or she is Black or African-American.’ There was the time I was in a chat room and a person who works as a classroom assistant with autistic children said ‘they are all such lovely children’. Firstly she should know better than to call all autistic children they as if it was a race of people and secondly I honestly don’t think I always was such a lovely child. As with everyone else on the entire planet autistic people are a varied bunch, some lovely, some not so lovely and a lot of the time it has nothing to do with the autism.
When some people make a joke response to mental health I realise that some do this out of a sense of discomfort to try to make light of a topic they find very hard to discuss seriously with others. They themselves might have experience of mental health and still not feel like they can discuss it openly. However it is not a good idea to make a joke about mental health as a first response to someone who tells you they have issues. It can be very hard for people with mental health issues to feel that they can discuss them honestly with anyone, so the fact they feel they are ready to talk about them should be taken seriously. You should listen to them, it may help you understand the person better.
The other thing that gets me is having watched one documentary or met one person with the same condition people then think they totally understand you. Yes they may have some idea of what the condition is, but mental illnesses tend to vary from person to person a great deal. For example with my OCD I do not wash my hands over and over, but after one documentary showed a woman with OCD washing her hands excessively till they were red raw, for a long time after people kept asking me if that was something I did. When someone tells you they have a mental health condition please be sensitive in your response to them and think before you say anything.