Breaking the Mental Health taboo

I’ve seen a lot of content online this week relating to mental health. No surprise as it’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

With that, I’ve seen a lot of opinions on both the event, and of mental health issues in general. On LinkedIn, I’ve seen posts about it relating to the workplace – and that’s fine from a work perspective. But of course, mental health is with you always.

And it got me thinking.

Wouldn’t the world just be a better place if there were no issues, if everyone was okay. If nobody were depressed?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

I will openly admit that I have two very serious things in life that I have to deal with.

Firstly, I suffer from self-diagnosed mild depression which comes and goes. Largely brought about by being bullied quite badly throughout school and my early working life, and some difficult and rather negative issues surrounding relationships. As a result I have low self-esteem and am a rather insecure person. If you met me in the street and started a conversation with me or had a meeting with me in a working environment, the chances are you would never know.

Secondly, my step son is diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder, attends a special needs school and has and now receives therapy to try to build coping strategies for extremely high levels of anxiety. In the past we have had to deal with violence – from him trying to break my legs by kicking me, to suicide attempts by asphyxiation, and verbal threats to kill his siblings. One of those threats he was armed and inches away from one of his sisters, with a pair of scissors. We speak with and read accounts by many families in a small area of the UK who are battling with the same – and worse. It’s far from isolated. But thank goodness for the brilliant and amazing support networks my wife and I are part of – set up, generally, by other parents looking to help others and wanting a space to turn to themselves.

We’ve had the looks and the “I’m talking to someone else but I want you to hear” comments when his behaviour out in public over the years has been outside of the “norm”. But the parents are always to blame, apparently.

I’m happy to openly admit – and talk about – these issues. At any time. To anyone. It’s not for sympathy or pity. But mental health is for some reason a taboo subject. And this desperately needs to change. After all the reasons behind the first example – the issues I personally face – demonstrate that it really can happen to anyone.

We live in a society where people are judgemental of others, because they don’t act the way they’re “supposed” to. But just because my step son doesn’t conform to whatever “normality” is, doesn’t mean he isn’t struggling with seemingly “normal” things, every day of his life. And if Joe, Bob or Steve happens to be sitting on a train and just burst into tears for example, is that something that justifies being laughed at and ridiculed at that moment, in secret, on social media? Maybe they’re going through a divorce, or they’ve just lost someone really close to them. Maybe they’re in financial trouble and can’t see a way out? Maybe, just maybe, they’re one laugh away from suicide and that person sitting over there, sniggering because they think it’s funny, just tipped them over the edge. They might not make it through the day.

All sounds very morbid, but that’s the reality of it.

So, why have an awareness week at all? We should all be respectful of other people, for more than 7 days a year. Change starts with society in general being less ignorant so that people don’t have to suffer in silence anymore because they’re too embarrassed to reach out for help.

You never know when it might be you.

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