I had a conversation with another staff member at work this week. I do this often. My workplace is enjoyable and the people I work with are nice. I like my job and I like the people. But this conversation gave me more to think about than I’d expected.
A chance remark made by this person, about another we worked with made me think about the stigma of mental health.
A whispered remark about someone having had treatment for a mental health condition.
An expression on a face that spoke volumes.
A concern over fitness for working in their profession.
The biggest thing I took from this conversation was that there is still such stigma over depression and mental health issues.
I can excuse the words of another by way of their youth, and the fact that their experience of life is different than my own. But I cannot accept that people should still be judged for having sought treatment for themselves in relation to mental health.
Surely having treatment, in any form, is better than going through life at the whim of changing moods and emotions, anxieties and fears. Surely, having treatment should be praised, rather than censured.
Having had post natal depression twice, and seeking counselling for a traumatic event, I know how much bravery it took to admit that I had problem, that I needed help to deal with it. I have so much praise for others who seek help for their mental health issues. I have, more than once, suggested people seek counselling for themselves, because it was so beneficial for me.
Maybe I should have tried to challenge the perceptions of the person I was chatting with, open their eyes to something that they obviously have no experience of themselves. But I did not. I never mentioned my own experiences, or said anything to normalise the experience of the third person about whom whispers were circling.
Did I feel the stigma? Yes. Did I feel I would be judged for my experience? Maybe. Did I think it was my place to comment on someone else’s personal experience of which I knew nothing? No.
I will say, now, that perceptions of those of us who have struggled with our mental health isn’t helped by the whispered comments. No matter that we may now function normally, there is always the constant monitoring of emotions, the meditations and down time, the scheduling and planning that comes with trying to keep ones emotional balance. There will always be the quiet, behind closed doors part of me that will be ensuring I get enough sleep, that I’m eating right, that I’m getting enough exercise and sunshine. I will always be monitoring myself so that I don’t slide back into that place filled with fear and dark.
It takes bravery to own your past, good, bad and indifferent. It takes bravery to own that you’ve needed help. It takes bravery to crawl out of the hole and find the help. Knowing that I’ve faced those things with courage, maybe next time the topic comes up, I’ll own with courage the fact that many people have needed help, and I am one of them. Maybe next time I’ll be brave enough to help break the stigma.