I think mental health is often very stigmatised and trivialised. It’s the one ailment that nobody can visually discern (depending on how someone’s emotional turmoil manifests itself), hence, I think people are liable to be sceptical about its severity, let alone its existence.
It is casual human cynicism like this that makes people reluctant to recognise that their emotional state is at risk. I think it holds true to the age old facet of the British “stiff upper lip”, which is openly contemptuous of psychological discomfort, particularly in women.
Post natal depression? PAH. Good sir, this is what one calls a mere trifling case of “the weepies”; a jolly good slap to the cheek should sort her out in a jiffy.
However, this attitude affects boys in that to let their emotions rule them is a sign of weakness; anti-bravado, boys don’t cry, etc.
To make sure this wasn’t just an excessive speculation on my part, I casually wove my next visit to my mental health worker into the thread of conversation with a couple of peers a few weeks back. An uncomfortable silence ensued.
“I don’t think you should talk about it”, one of my friends wisely, and decidedly, interjected.
No reason followed this, which somewhat befuddled me. I personally had no qualms about, so I asked her why.
“I just think it’s a bit… personal. I wouldn’t talk about it.”
“It seems a little indulgent to me”, another friend piped up. I asked her how so.
“Well, it’s not there for ‘just anyone’, is it?” she replied, with a frank yet fidgety expression which hid nothing.
I found, and still find, this conversation a little haunting. For one thing, it was clear to me that my friends saw no symptom for my mental imbalance; my home was not broken, I hadn’t lost a parent, I wasn’t in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend/relative. In their eyes I was just typical, which I am, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have access to the NHS. Furthermore, not wishing to discuss it is a symbol of their incredulousness: why should what I feel be more serious than what they do? Why did it warrant a counsellor? Surely I must only be talking about it for attention, to boast?
These mirrored the thoughts I had when I went to see my GP a little over a year ago. Because nothing particularly bad had happened to trigger the excessive anxiety and low self esteem I had, I worried that she wouldn’t believe me, or thought that I thought my case more important than it actually was. Although, I didn’t think my case was important at all; my mother had coax me into the surgery with the promise of food. I remember being nervous – perspiring a little and clamping my arms down to conceal pitstains – and wondering “Do I have to cry? Is that protocol?”. But I just told the truth calmly and collectedly and, without hesitation, she recommended cognitive behavioural therapy and referred me to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). So, although I am actually ‘just anyone’, haven’t had a traumatic childhood and yes, I suffer from “the weepies”, my GP thought it prudent that I was put on a waiting list for a counsellor. And since I warranted one, I think tonnes of people who would never even consider it would benefit from the service.
Anxiety, low self esteem and a lack of self worth or purpose are, in my opinion, pretty feckin’ common, but people don’t realise it’s not something you have to hide and deal with alone. Nor should we accept that it’s just our duty to feel that way. CAMHS is on the NHS – it’s free there for us as a nation. It’s not exclusive or indulgent; when you think about modern life, modern relationships, issues with families, increasing stress and pressure in schools then it’s no wonder that so many people under 18 get depressed. It’s quite shocking that these services are losing funding (there are only three mental health workers for the majority of Lincolnshire, each see 40-70 people fortnightly) since it is core to stimulating simple positivity and progress in people.
My final session with my counsellor is later this month – since I turn 18 next week and have finished school the service doesn’t cater for me anymore. But you know what? I’m going to start paying for monthly sessions with a private therapist. Because having someone on the outside to talk to, to offload my anxieties in a non-judgemental environment, to help me cope, gain perspective and become rational again has been the best thing for me and thousands of other unhappy ‘just anyones’ in the whole of the UK.
Yes, I do think counselling is okay. I think it’s something we should talk about; it’s okay to feel feels, it’s okay to seek help, it’s not okay to judge those who want to be open about their predicament. It shows a kind of strength; they’re dealing with it head on and they don’t care who knows it. Which is good.