This week, instead of commenting on something I’ve read in the news or a global issue I feel passionate about I thought I would write about something more personal. For reasons unknown, it seems as though a theme that has become increasingly prevalent in my life is mental illness. This terrifying phenomenon which can only be described as a modern day epidemic has started rearing it’s ugly head in ways I could never see coming. Perhaps it is something that becomes more pressing with age. Perhaps it is just mirroring the emergence of societal acknowledgement of the problem and progression towards acceptance. But mental illness has become a feature in my daily conversations.
While I commend the rise in people opening up about their own experiences and emotions, I have to admit it also terrifies me. The consequence of this is that it is something which has become constantly in the forefront of my mind. Having personally suffered in the past, the ubiquity of mental illness leaves me feeling incredibly vulnerable. On returning to university this year to be greeted by a barely manageable workload worsened by the external stress that accompanies adult life I admit I have found it even harder to remain stoic. The expectations placed upon young people during the transition from home to adult life can often appear overwhelming and perhaps even unbearable.
Terminology also plays a role in this. There is barely a day that passes without me hearing a friend say that they are depressed, have anxiety or causally and unintentionally throwing around phrases like ‘I’m going to commit’. The nonchalance that has been imposed upon terms with such undeniable importance not only undermines a serious illness but also acts to confuse and complicate an already complex problem, and subsequently perpetuate it’s prevalence. I would say at least three or four times a week I have what has been socially coined as a ‘mental breakdown’. For me this usually includes a wild sense of panic, crying and the desire to pack it in, drop out of uni and hop on a plane to the Bahamas. While I freely admit I am one of the culprits of this misuse of language, I hypocritically strongly advocate against it and try to refrain as much as possible.
The fundamental point I am trying to make, and quite possibly failing to as I type this during a moment in which I feel stressed and mentally frantic, is that the distinction between normal and abnormal emotions are becoming blurred. We get stressed, anxious, panicked, angry and upset because we are humans living in a world riddled with high expectations and inevitable disappointments. I know how to manage my stress, I talk to my friends and yes, I have episodes of instability but I know I can calm myself down.
These luxuries do not extend to people who suffer from or manage a mental illness, which I know both personally and peripherally. We need to stop saying we are depressed or psychotic, both out of respect for those less fortunate and for ourselves. Creating a society in which mental illness is so confusing makes it easier to convince yourself you have it, when you don’t.