Just less than two years ago I lost someone I loved to mental illness. As with so many sudden deaths, in our devastation, my friends and I were hopelessly arguing, throwing around accusations, looking somewhere to lay blame for the tragedy. The most shocking were the overwhelming amount of people who chose to blame themselves, each other, or the victim. When someone dies of a physical illness, nobody would dare to blame the person who has passed away nor their loved ones. Why is this tolerated when someone commits suicide due to a mental illness? Who knows whether my friend could have been saved but if there is blame to be laid it should be towards the disproportionate lack of funding and awareness of mental health issues.
In this age of political correctness I am constantly astounded by the crass and flippant remarks I hear about ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘nuts’ people, and even regarding suicide. This extends to the national media, including left wing satirists who wouldn’t dream of making derogatory remarks about any other groups. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 6,708 suicides in the UK&ROI in 2013 a number that appears to be rising. Moreover 1 in 4 of us experience mental health problems during the course of a year. So it is worth bearing in mind when you make a throwaway comment insulting someone by questioning their sanity, it’s likely that someone in earshot is struggling with their own mental stability. Comments like this are enough to discourage people from socialising and engaging in conversation; they can be very damaging to a person’s self-esteem and recovery.
One way to tackle this is for people to be honest and open about their own mental health. It’s healthy to experience a range of emotions but we so often refrain from discussing them. A continued and open dialogue amongst friends and family can give each other a huge source of strength. It is vital that friends, families, employers reassert that mental health issues are not a weakness. Despite all the equality and employment laws I often feel apprehensive about disclosing my own mental health issues. I have no guarantee that my employer won’t have misguided assumptions of how my depression could impact on the business and favour another candidate rather than taking the ‘risk’ of offering me a position. Even in writing this article I fear there may be repercussions for my career.
This month I became the first person to stand as a Parliamentary Candidate in Esher and Walton for the Green Party. I’m sure for anyone this experience is an emotional rollercoaster; dealing with anxiety of public speaking, the physical exhaustion of sleepless nights, the desolation of personal attacks and trolling. I think it is fair to say these struggles are exacerbated by a history of depression or anxiety. On several occasions I questioned my ability to continue, and whether it was truly worth the emotional strain.
It is only since 2012 that people with a history of serious mental health conditions have been permitted to stand as MPs, I have only touched on the barriers that they still face today. I suspect this lack of representation in such positions contributes to the lack of research and support for the crisis of mental health. This week for mental health awareness week, I’ve been honest about my own issues and I hope that I have inspired others to do the same. Together we can get rid of the taboo surrounding mental health.