If I suffered from a heart condition that required me to take daily medication no one would think any less of me for taking those pills every day with my morning coffee. If someone asked me what I was taking the medication for I wouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to tell them. But if someone told me my illness was simply in my head and a result of my own inability to accept reality I would be outraged, as would most people. It is simply not an acceptable thing to say. How about if an employer decided not to hire me because they thought I was a danger to others? Well, a heart problem isn’t contagious. And nor is a mental illness. If you applied the situation above to someone with an anxiety disorder that is being treated and managed through medication the whole situation becomes less shocking; it is in fact the norm. Although a quarter of the population experience mental health problems at some point in their lives there is still a massive stigma that surrounds them.
It was only last year that the law preventing individuals who suffered from mental illness, past or present, from undertaking jury service was changed. Although there is now an equality act which states that one cannot be discriminated against in employment and other such areas because of mental illness, a law or an act does not necessarily change people’s attitudes and it is attitude change which leads to behaviour change. I recall reading an article recently about a young lady whose job offer was revoked after the company (a foreign company and therefore not subject to the same laws as our own) found a history of depression in her medical records.
The NHS has promised […] to give mental health the budget it needs […] but spending still seems to be incredibly low.
The worst part about the stigma that accompanies mental illnesses is the shame that those who experience them feel. People suffering from depression, for example, don’t want anyone to know about it. They hide it away like an ugly boil – and I don’t blame them. I have been advised not to take antidepressants as it might affect my ability to get a mortgage, something that is certainly not in my near future. The idea that admitting an illness in my twenties would follow me around for the rest of my life is terrifying. And the tragic yet common result of denying or not seeking treatment can be social exclusion and even suicide. Just like an untreated disease, an untreated mental illness can kill.
Furthermore, when people do seek treatment, they might not be able to get it. The problem is that mental healthcare is not given enough funding. The availability of mental health treatment is even being reduced in certain regions. I cannot understand why cuts are being made in mental health when the demand is increasing. The NHS has promised, in the past, to give mental health the budget it needs and to consider it in the same way physical health is considered but spending still seems to be incredibly low. In March of this year six leading mental health charities published an open letter in The Guardian warning that patients could die as a result of NHS cuts to the mental health budget.
There are two solutions to this age of incapacitation in mental health. The first is perception. As soon as we stop perceiving mental illness as a less valid illness, as if there is such a thing, things will improve. People with depression and people with cancer all need support. Secondly, in accordance with this new attitude, treatment should be readily available in abundance, no excuses.
Let’s not suffer in silence.
Header image rights; Victor Casale