Mental Illness: Out Of The Closet And Into The Fire

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Yes, I’m talking about mental health issues, because…well, at last we can.

Like cancer, mental illness has finally been let out of the closet and is halfway to being accepted as a bonafide condition.

In fact, these days it’s almost in vogue to have a mental illness.

We’re finally talking about the different conditions, educating ourselves about them and discussing how we can get to the root of them early enough to prevent escalations such as depression, suicide and even murder.

Did you read the recent article by Mia Freedman, ‘I’m Finally Ready To Talk About My Anxiety’, in which she came out about to her own battle with Anxiety Disorder?

Mia, being Mia, and sadly judged as a lightweight ‘blogger’ by certain circles of superior up-their-own-arses, old-school writers, has taken a lot of flack for the article; even though her admission may, over the course of time, help thousands of women get help for their mental health issues.

But her article was followed by a war of words and condemnation from Guy Rundle at Crikey in his piece ‘Depression confessional culture obscures the true nature of mental illness’, in which he castigated Mia for her over-sensationalism of what he views as minor ‘nervous breakdowns’, endemic of living in a competitive Western culture.

He makes valid points about the pressures of the society we now live in and the effects on mental health those pressures can have on certain people:

English: An anxious person

English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘But it is also competitive, setting people against each other, hyper-individualistic, repeatedly dissolves grounding meanings — where you grew up, how you lived, etc — and all of it driving many people to work very hard with no meaningful purpose. When the going is good, it’s great, when it’s not, you can fall for a long way.’

Rundle recognises that depression exists and requires treatment but he is wary of the over-prescription of the SSRIs that are used today, often without adequate follow up from GPs and psychiatrists – he believes that the fault lies with the influence of the drug companies and a lack of funding by governments to fund alternative treatments.

However, while we need to be aware of the dangers of medication, we mustn’t stigmatise it or the people who will most benefit from it won’t access it.

What hit home most for me in Mia’s piece was that she was demonstrating to her readers that mental illness can affect anyone, even to someone as publicly successful as she is. In her admission, she was attempting to lift the shame of mental illness.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand when you read a Mamamia article that invariably it’s going to be an article from the heart, a shared experience, not some medical discussion with big words that might be better suited to a medical journal and may not be easily comprehensible to Joe Public.

As a fellow sufferer of Anxiety Disorder, I wholeheartedly applauded Mia’s honesty in relation to her own problems. I myself had dog-paddled frantically for several years in an attempt to keep my head above water until finally a single trigger threatened to sink me after years of ruminating anger, self-doubt and jeapardising family relationships.

But I also have to agree with what Guy Rundle highlights about some of the potential side- effects of medication on the brain chemistry and perhaps, as he implies, I too wasn’t really suffering from anxiety or depression, but some self-imposed pathetic condition brought on by the stresses and strains of living amid the competition of middle-class over-expectation that I was ill-equipped to deal with.

But it felt real enough.

If a force affects your health to the degree that you can’t live a normal life, or the quality of your life is compromised to the point that you consider ending it, you need help. I have watched my own son grapple with his demons and every day I worry about the long-term effects of medication on a brain that is already vulnerable – although it is his choice to take them now. But I also know of parents who have lost young people to suicide, from Bipolar Disorder and Depression; kids who might have been helped if the systems in place weren’t so flawed due to lack of funding.

What’s the point in advancement in medical knowledge and treatment if we don’t use it?

I don’t agree with Mia’s public recommendation of anti-depressants as the solution, necessarily, or of naming her particular brand of medication, because I know that there are many other treatments that are not invasive to our brain chemistry that can work and should be considered first. But in my experience, GPs do not provide scripts for SSRIs without a detailed look at family history, the history of symptoms, a trial at therapy or a change in diet, until medication is the final resort.

And whatever your thoughts about medication, it does save lives.

Just like the medication debate over prescribing drugs to kids with ADHD, there is a similar stigma about supplying anti-depressants, and the more knowledgeable I become about mental illness, the more I believe that the use of drugs for depression, anxiety and ADHD is stigmatised not only because there has been abuse leading to over-prescription, but because many people still don’t believe these conditions are real. That if an illness is invisible, it probably doesn’t really exist – even though the side effects of that illness, when left untreated, can prove fatal.

Other drugs are never as over-analysed.

HELLO! We know that all drugs carry health risks and have side effects, and most of us would try every alternative treatment to avoid them. But why do some people think that where mental health issues are concerned, we have a choice? That’s a shallow, naive level of patronisation, that demonstrates a lack of education and understanding.

It’s also true that those people with a history of abuse, loss, addiction or a mental health condition are probably more prone to anxiety and depression, just as people who are overweight are more prone to diabetes and those who smoke are more prone to lung cancer.

But should we feel guilty about belonging to those vulnerable target groups?

Does being that unfortunate mean we don’t deserve help and should just buck the fuck up, (like we’re told to, so often)?

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