As we all know, mental health issues have a stigma surrounding them. We might not like to admit it, but they do. Even though the number of people reportedly dealing with their own iterations of mental health problems is scarily high – and no doubt a lot higher than we actually think – talking about mental health remains an activity to be conducted behind closed doors.
It is improving, albeit painfully slowly. I imagine the stigma surrounding it being similar to the one that barely exists around cancer. What was once a disease people would be ashamed to have is now openly discussed and supported publically, as it should be. Unfortunately, talking about mental health issues exists as cancer’s former self – a subject to be brushed under the carpet and written off as the result of ‘stress’ or ‘upbringing issues’.
It’s a hard wall to break down. Even I – someone who is fairly open about the fact that he has feelings of anxiety in most situations – find it hard to tell someone about my mental health issues in certain instances, even though I know talking about these things is the only solution to relieving the stigma surrounding them.
Part of my hesitation to breach the subject is as a result of my age. As a 28-year-old man, there’s a certain embarrassment associated with having anxiety. I think many people believe that a man of my age should be able to handle stressful situations, that I shouldn’t feel nervous simply talking to a cashier or barber; that I should feel entirely comfortable conversing with a next door neighbour; that I shouldn’t be stumbling over my words talking to new people; or that a simple phone call shouldn’t result in me having to leave a room full of people before I can properly talk to whoever is on the other end of the line.
It’s almost like by a certain age, society expects you to have dealt with the major issues in your life and ironed out the paranoia and uncertainty you’ve experienced up until then. Particularly by 28, you should be mature and conform with society’s ideal image of an ‘adult’.
Fuelling the fire
Of course, part of this embarrassment – like anxiety itself – is fuelled by my own thoughts. This is all what I think people believe, not what I know. But then, those thoughts exist for a reason. They exist as a result of conversations I’ve had over the years, the minor remarks that people say and don’t even think about, and the numerous sources of information that have existed throughout my life. Comments I hear every day like ‘he’s so weird’ and ‘he’s so boring’ aimed at someone that I know has anxiety issues but the person saying the remarks doesn’t. Or ‘she’s so depressing’ and ‘why doesn’t she just cheer up’ in reference to someone I know is struggling with depression.
Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of those comments which makes me hyper-paranoid that they’re being said about me too. Just going on social media, where pretty much everything is over-exaggerated, will tell you that those kinds of comments are rife in today’s supposedly over-PC society.
I suppose the reason for this post is two-fold.
The first reason is to say that having anxiety as an adult is not weird or strange or bizarre, just like it’s not weird or strange of bizarre for someone younger to have it. I’m an example of someone with anxiety and I can tell you now, since my diagnosis and me deciding to be open about it, the number of people with the same issues is overwhelming and, quite frankly, worrying. Anxiety is isolating in both how society deals with it and how it makes you live your life. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it.
The second reason is to inspire some sort of compassion. It’s too easy in this day and age to judge something as something else based on superficial evidence, to share your opinion quickly and to have your opinion – whether it’s valid or not – enforced by others making the same snap judgement as yourself. So, before you come to a conclusion, just take a step back. Consider their position, their emotions, their possible mental health issues and their possible life experiences.
It’s hard to type that without feeling massively hypocritical because I know I’ve fallen into exactly the same trap as I’ve just explained above. But I’m going to make a real effort to try and be more compassionate from now on. And I think everyone else needs to too.