Recently I have been seeing and reading a fair amount on mental illnesses (specifically watching the film Side Effects, reading American Salvage for university and The Millenium series for pleasure, as well as researching mental health for work). Then I saw this video by The Guardian where Eleanor Longden talks about her experience with mental illness. This has lead to some reflection on the way we as a society still treat the issue. Namely that fine line between the stereotypes in our society and real people needing help.
The boom in prescribing anti-depressants and issue of people becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their lives has lead to an abuse of prescription medication, in the same way that others abuse alcohol or illegal drugs to cope. As a result of these issues, for some people, and in many portrayals, being depressed has also become ‘fashionable’ and the stereotype is often white middle-class teenagers or twenty-somethings who don’t know what to do with their emotions. Except this stereotype is very dangerous.
This is the image that was implanted in my own head as a teenager, during which time I had real emotional problems. I was told that my life was ‘good’, I was well-off and had no reason to feel or behave the way I did. I couldn’t even rationalise to myself why I felt that way. Adults around me swung from one extreme to another in their diagnose; one moment there would be nothing ‘wrong’ with me and the next I would be told I had borderline personality disorder or bi-polar. No-one stopped to talk about it with me though. Terms for mental illnesses were thrown at me as though there was something ‘wrong’ with me. Another dangerous stereotype. This was my choice: I was either just acting out or I was ‘crazy’.
The dangerous stereotypes around mental illness only serve to negate what people are feeling when, as a society, we should instead be giving them validation.
Just because I was a teenage girl, from a nice area, at a good school, it doesn’t mean my feelings and my problems were any less valid than someone else’s. If anyone had bothered to talk to me they might have learnt about the trauma I went through in my teens and they might have linked that to the issues I was having. Equally I’m not ‘crazy’, I have good days and bad days like everyone else; I work, study and live my life without anyone questioning my mental health, as I should.
From this comes my main point that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. The dangerous stereotypes around mental illness only serve to negate what people are feeling when, as a society, we should instead be giving them validation. Even if there is no apparent reason, diagnosis or trigger for someone’s mental illness, everyone can have their internal, mental struggles. I have friends whose lives I have truly believed were perfect. I have also seen these friends struggle emotionally, struggle to come to terms with things in their lives. We all have our demons, you probably just don’t know what they are.