World Mental Health Awareness Day: double act

The ‘about me’ section of MattersduMonde identifies Bertrand Russell as a man and philosopher who has shaped the way I live my life, not least by the three mantras identified in his biography: ‘the longing for love, the search for knowledge and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind’. Such a motivation should come with a caveat on World Mental Health Awareness Day 2015 – few people that are societally or clinically identified as occupying any state of ‘other’, be that in terms of physical or psychological integrity, seek the downward-reaching reaction of pity.

Rather than objectifying a quality of being ‘other’ through pity, this state, for me, orientates towards the overwhelming, albeit lessening, national reluctance to address mental health as a composite of many of our citizens. No longer is this a country in which mental health is a possible addendum – it is part (a growing part) of the fabric of our society. One only needs to return to the well-documented statistics that one in four UK adults will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lives to ascertain that at any present point society is influenced by – not distinct from – psychological health conditions.

Reproduced with permission of mental health.org

Reproduced with permission of mentalhealth.org

But this piece won’t feature me writing out, through statistics and evidence, the ultimately human occurrence and experience of a spectrum of mental wellness. Instead, I will delineate a little of my own self (minus any identifier terms) in a way that I have never before done in writing, nor shared for public perusal. It isn’t that I don’t feel that one should be open about classifications or diagnoses of mental health – certainly, transparency and notably celebrity acknowledgements of supposed infirmity can help many people accept and seek help for deviances from their own normal wellbeing.

For me, however, I feel little desire to share so called labels, for even if they are integral to my being at any period, they are certainly not terms by which I wish to be defined. So too, mental turbulence for me is not equivalent, nor necessarily relatable, to others who experience such states, and the disclosure of labels is, to my reading, as productive as comparing a dog to a cat – of limited correlation or benefit.

This is why I am also sceptical of the trigger warnings (TW) that have been mass adopted by journalism of a so-called sensitive nature. Originally they were designed to alert readers to a potential experience of post-traumatic stress following exposure to material that related to rape or graphic assault, warning former victims in particular of exposure consequences that might be debilitating. Their use, however, has been exploited by an all too correct and self-consciously considerate online society that problematically seeks to acknowledge the fluid nature of ‘sensitive’ material. Potentially triggering content now covers anything from corpses, medical procedures to catcalling. Their original value is all but lost in cliché, crystallised by their catchy acronym.

That aside, my choice not to outline the precise characteristics of my mental state is not intended to be self-righteous nor exclusive, but I think is the most appropriate way to enable every person from every context to access what I hope to express through writing.

After all, mental health is something which every cognitive being – including non-human animals – is subject to. The spectrum of wellness is deeply personal, but equally exists as something universally experienced. To illustrate my thinking, it might be suggested that certain states of personal mental deviation arose at the precise times in my teenage years when I was clinically diagnosed with a condition. I really doubt that this is the case.

For me, mental health is about how grounded I feel at any point in time. As a young child, I would go through phases of feeling wholly disembodied from myself, and learned to return to a me I was comfortable with by finding a mirror and repeating out loud basic criteria of identity: my name, my age, where I lived, the fact that I have a twin brother. All things that, for me, make me feel ‘grounded’, in both mental and physical space.

The timeworn adage that you never know what goes on behind closed doors stands true. Many of my closest friends do not know that my medical records dictate anything other than ‘perfect’ health (withstanding my sectionable cackle). This is OK – I absolutely wouldn’t want it any other way. However, many of these same friends describe me as ‘put together’, ‘sorted’ and ‘an all-rounder’. Lots of days I am all of those things, and even on those days when I am not, I wouldn’t wish to alienate myself from these characteristics. Instead, by acknowledging that there are periods when I am not those things, I hope the societal blueprint of a perfectly functioning, emotionally stable non-being is dispelled for being just that – unrealistic and idealistic.

These ‘not’ days are not of lesser value (indeed, I challenge the appropriateness of comparative negative terms of mental ‘distress’ or ‘perturbation’) – they are just times which range from not feeling myself to being completely dissociated from the being I identify with when at my most grounded. That can be an absence – in my case an absence of familiarity or contentment in and with myself – but it is not something I consider to reduce my personal worth. Of course, historically those periods when my mental state has been changed in frightening and non-familiar ways, I wish away these experiences, but that carries little impact. A critical part of any self-stabilising care approach is the often very tortuous acceptance that the state and experience of feeling ‘other’ is inextricably part of our bodily and emotional make-up for that temporal space.

At 18 years old, my parents bought me a really very lovely watch. It is my most treasured accoutrement. The fact that I wear it continuously is often met with surprise at my inability to ‘switch-off’. In fact, I generally use my phone for time keeping; my watch is something that figuratively keeps me on point and grounded.

The wanderlust gene in me (sorry – anachronism at its worst) is sparked by what I consider to be a primal desire to experience myself in an alien environment, but in reality I am not always as comfortable with the self I discover, often with reckless activity and destablising consequences. My watch is a physical reminder; a mindful token, that my mind and body is situated in a time continuum that extrapolates into the future and looks back to memorialised experience.

It will take more than my 24 years to fully accept and realise that my security in who I am at any given time is liable to change through factors and states often beyond my control. The certainty that does remain is that regardless of how lost I may feel, stability is always to be found even if at an undefined, and seemingly intangible, point in the future. Experiencing mental integrity and shifts away from that is, to my mind, an all too natural reaction to the conditioned and reconditioned nation and age we live in. Being able to acknowledge that, even in light of practical or socioeconomic impacts, makes for some of the most intuitive and fascinating individuals precisely because they are in acute communication with their own mind.

Awareness of mental health is, first and foremost, an individual mindfulness of where we are, and how we are subject to the pressures, expectations and services of our society as shaped by the model of governance. Thereafter, awareness must lead to politically driven policy to prioritise services that support such mental shifts. That might take the form of readiness to fund research into virtual reality tools and computer-based therapy to substitute for face-to-face contact, or e-mental health programmes and streamlining referral pathways. Awareness (etymologically suggesting ‘caution’ or ‘wariness’) must shake off connotations of ‘beware’ and should always react to the human in flux as something to be embraced as a power for personal change and discovery.

 

To find out more about World Mental Health Awareness Day 2015, please head to: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2015/.

Image Credit: Rocco Lucia, Flickr.

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