Today is World Mental Health Day (as you can tell by the picture above, I guess). Now, I am far from an expert on these things. Apart from my own depression and anxiety which, as I have said before, are relatively mild, I have no real experience of mental illness.
However, there are a few things I do know. There are things which are very common misconceptions regarding mental illness which I see and hear said a lot. In fact I have, in the past, said some of these myself. We all need to realise, though, that these things really are not true.
Depression is not when you feel a bit sad. Depression is a void which can get so bad that it is not just mental, but physical in its effects. It destroys all joy, hope, happiness, confidence and self-esteem. It is literally soul-destroying and so much more than just sadness.
Anxiety is not when you can’t handle stress. Anxiety is a crippling illness which makes certain situations, or life itself, pretty much impossible to cope with as you battle with horrific fear, stress, palpitations and panic attacks for no reason other than being ill.
Schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder. When someone says that they’re a bit schizophrenic, they think they are saying that their personality changes a bit from time to time. What they’re actually saying is that they hear voices in their head, constantly compelling them to harm themselves or others, that everybody is trying to kill them, that the world itself is evil. They are saying that they suffer hallucinations and are utterly detached from reality.
OCD is not where you have to straighten pictures, alphebatise your tins and wash your hands a lot. You feel the need to go through certain rituals because, if you don’t, you truly believe that awful things will happen. People’s wellbeing or lives depend on it. It is a disorder which compels you to do things because you are utterly obsessed. The clue is in the name. And it is Hell for those who have it.
As I said, I’m not an expert. Some of what I’ve written comes from personal experience, some from what I’ve read of the experiences of others. The point of this is that we all have a great deal to learn when it comes to mental illness. There is so much misinformation and myth surrounding it that it leads to a lack of understanding. That lack of understanding leads, in turn, to the stigma which is still very much attached to all forms of mental illness. So, we need to talk about it, read about it and listen to people who are living through it in the same way we would with physical illness.
That’s why I’ve written about my own depression. Not to gain sympathy, but to encourage openness and discussion about the issue. We need to get past the fear of talking about mental illness, whether we have it or not. It’s not shameful in any way, it’s just illness. Let’s all fight it and understand together.