Coming out of the mental health closet


Mental health is still widely stigmatised

I’ve got to say that coming out of the closet was way easier than telling the entire world that I experience mental illness.

I have had depressive episodes since the age of 12, and later in life I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and just a teeny, little bit of OCD.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I was assigned to write an article about mental health to mark Mental Health Awareness Month – which is October. And I have spent the last five days re-writing and deleting a stream of sentences explaining what mental wellness means and how to support your loved one and how mental illness is so stigmatised. Truth is, everything I wrote felt flat. Clinical.

It’s not that I am a stranger to talking about mental illness and mental health. I advocate for the destigmatising of mental illness. I started a YouTube channel on the topic. It was mostly so that I could learn how to use YouTube, though. And I am open on my videos. I tell my exactly 18 followers what it’s like to have a mental illness. But here? Flames. Ironic, since this is what I do over the internet on a weekly basis.

I am not one to get personal in my writing. They say, “Write this”, and I write it. However, this subject – THIS subject – which is so close to my heart and so much a part of my life experience, is difficult to talk about. Harder even than telling people exactly how much I currently weigh (115kgs) or that I used to pose naked for a group of artists for their life drawing class once a month for a year. (They paid, and would usually buy me a glass of sherry afterwards at the pub).

We suffer in silence because we don’t want to be judged.

Perhaps it is because mental illness is so stigmatised that we don’t discuss it. Those of us who experience it go about our days with smiles on our faces, we do our jobs, we meet with friends, but we’re guarded about that one thing that goes on in the most private of spaces: our minds.

We suffer in silence because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want people to dismiss us and our feelings. We don’t want to appear to be crazy. We don’t want to be pitied. We don’t want to be misunderstood and shunned. And yet, so many of us are.

We fear what would happen when our family find out, when friends know, and, God forbid, our employers discover our illness, which we would prefer stayed in the shadows.

The reality is that most of us cope. And really, when thinking of depression, which has been the bane of my existence, getting the right kind of help could set us all firmly on the road to recovery. I made the decision to take the medication and get the therapy. Not many people do. Many more still have no idea that what they are experiencing is mental illness. Some may feel constrained by culture, tradition, or religious norms. Others fear us and what we might do because we are nuts, crazy, insane, not lekker in the head.

You’d think it would be easier to admit in the 21st century. Well. Turns out, not so much.

But, and here’s the good news, mental illness is treatable. Depression, in fact, is one of the easiest to treat. The catch is finding the courage to ask for help. Therapy, people. Therapy. Talking about what’s going on in your life, how your mental illness affects you and those around you is a profound healing experience. A bit like writing this.

If you are experiencing mental health issues – and let’s face it, we’ve been through two years that have led to global trauma in pretty much all of us – your first stop should be your GP’s office. Talk about it. Get help. You don’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to grieve alone. You don’t have to hide. Break the silence, find that spark of courage that lurks deep in the darkness of your mind, and get the help that can free you from the pain you are experiencing. It could change your life. Even save it.

I know, because I have been there.

If you feel you need to talk to someone about your mental health, please contact Lifeline on 0861 322 322 for telephonic or in-person counselling.

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