Why your opinion on mental health isn’t as progressive as you think
Updated: Jul 1
By Joyce Dignam
This piece was inspired by a tweet that I saw many months ago that still riles me up whenever I think about it. That said, this is still an important issue that I hold close to my heart and feel needs to be said, tweet or no tweet. This has been your warning. You are about to read the ramblings of a pissed off twenty-year-old.
We live in a society where we have been fed an idea of mental health that is untrue. The Irish government has continuously ignored mental health issues and has not progressed with their policies or the care that is on offer for those who need it. By convincing us that mental health can be cured by having a cup of tea and a chat, they deflect from their wrongdoings and creates a perception about mental health and mental illnesses that I think are harmful to those who are suffering.
The aforementioned tweet was one that criticised those who blame being a bad friend on their mental health. Obviously there can be truth in this and ultimately people who suffer must take responsibility for their own relationships but there was something about seeing all my friends like this post that upset me. These were friends that had spoken out about mental health and had put the message out there that they were open to talking to you if you ever needed help. And yet, they agreed that mental health should never be used as an excuse for bad behaviour. The message that this post gave, to me, was “I am here for you if you’re suffering but only if the way you are suffering suits me”. And I’m aware this may sound like a bit of a reach so let me explain a little bit further.
Mental health has become a topical issue recently, with many people sharing their stories and people speaking out to offer their support, which is definitely a step in the right direction. What makes this step less progressive is the fact that people have no idea what supporting actually is. To complain that people with mental illnesses use their illness as an excuse for being a bad friend is selfish and hypocritical. For those who have anxiety, social events can be difficult, they might want to avoid them or if they get there, they might act in a way that would be unlike them. For those with depression, simple tasks like keeping in touch can seem overwhelming. This is the reality of having a friend who is suffering from their mental health.
Listening to the radio during the week I heard the ever-condescending Little Things Campaign, encouraging me to speak out if I am struggling. The #LittleThings campaign was created by the H.S.E.’s National Office for Suicide Prevention and advises those suffering with their mental health to share a cup of tea with their friends, get enough sleep and drink less on nights out. As a student who suffers with their mental health and who has been through the system, who has been on the waiting lists, I find this campaign laughable. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know this advice could be helpful to some and is not to be completely dismissed but, for the HSE to pump money into this is wrong in my opinion. It’s important to recognise that everyone has mental health even though there are people that might suffer with it and people that don’t. Almost everyone will go through periods in their life where they will feel down or stressed because that’s just how life works. These people, who generally do okay with their mental health and have periods of feeling low are just as important as those who are suffering with their mental health for long periods of time or for those with mental illnesses however, it seems like this group are often the only ones cared for.
Campaigns like Little Things could be of great benefit to you if you were having a hard time. Of course, it should be encouraged to eat well, exercise and speak to your friends if this were the case. But, putting energy into a campaign like this while also ignoring serious mental illnesses is dangerous because it gives an impression of mental health that is untrue and also ignores the care that those who are suffering are in need of.
So, we now live in a society that thinks a cup of tea and a chat will cure my depression. You will share a Facebook post saying if anyone needs help they can talk to you, you will use the hashtags and you will put the kettle on but if it gets any darker than that you are not prepared. Because, having a friend with a mental illness is not easy. And most people with mental illnesses are already aware of that. Being my friend when I am suffering means knowing I am harming myself, it means knowing I don’t want to be here, it means me being too anxious to leave the house, cancelling plans and thinking you’re against me because isn’t the whole world? And you are confused. You saw the posters. You made the cup of tea. And it has done nothing for me because I have a mental illness and I need actual, substantial care.
I can guarantee that someone who is suffering already feels like their mental illness is pushing people away because they have ups and downs, don’t reply to messages or anything of that nature. And so, seeing a post that all my friends had liked, confirming that they don’t accept my illness as an excuse is crushing. And although you may have all the greatest intentions in the world and letting people know you are there for them is a great step. You must be prepared for what being there for someone with a mental illness actually is or else you are just humouring your own ego, convincing yourself you are being progressive when you actually are not.
Is your Facebook post saying you support mental health for those suffering or is it for yourself?