Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mental health

People who are not quite right are familiar to all of us, often related to travelling on public transport. Whether it is Jasper Carrott's nutter on the bus or Alexei Sayle's Do you like Sponge?, odd behaviour in social situations is awkward, particularly when children start asking straight questions (like why does that man keep shouting and sucking his thumb?).

Mental health is not an on/off thing- it is a continuum where the middle ground is not clearly defined. Some are born that way, some reach their development limits at a certain age and others drift into (and hopefully out of) it due to problems in life.

When I went on the Outward Bound City Challenge course, we had a stint in a mental hospital. Our first exposure was a big disco with all the City Challengers in the social hall when we met some of the more outgoing and entertaining residents. The sadder part was later that week when we found out how many were behind closed doors rocking their way through the day in anxiety, bewilderment or indifference. Of course, many of these were born that way (effectively brain or nervous system damage, although it is politely called special needs now).

Towards the end of our placement, one of the staff showed me the old patient records of some of the particular no-hopers who were never going to change. The medical terms were rather shocking, as they were common terms of abuse in the late 70s- This man is an imbecile, this woman is a cretin, this child is a retard. The staff member explained that they were all clearly defined, but such terms had now been retired from current use as they were regarded as offensive. However, she said that the newer system obfuscated the previous clarity in the name of PC (although that term wasn't quite in general use then).

At the hospital, apart from the disposessed who would never leave, we only really met long term mental health people who were being helped to cope if they were up to it in controlled circumstances (open wards, half way houses etc.) The others, we met in the hospice, the Geriatric Hospital, at home with carers, at the Sally Army shelter, at the Cyrenians (for the real bottom of the barrel vagrants who even Social Services gave up on).

We all aspire to the peak of Maslow's triangle but sometimes we slip down the slopes. How easy is it for regular people to develop mental health problems? All too easy. Stress, pressure, money problems, bereavement, rejection and being unable to cope can lead to being miserable and ultimately to depression. I have known people describe it to me as like a slow, relentless quicksand, pulling hope deeper and deeper down into the mire.

The first stage to recovery (as in many things) is in recognising the condition for what it is rather than denial or avoidance. One such blogger who has done exactly that is Tony from Cynical Chatter from the underworld. Tony has been blogging for about eighteen months and rose to the giddy heights of being an Iain Dale "A List" member with his insightful posts interspered with odd stuff about his whip obsession.
However, he came out about his struggle mid-February and despite lots of supportive posts, he has yet to post again.

I know how he feels, of course, and many of us will also. As soon as we go public with any big issue that rocks the boat, our few real friends are very supportive but the fair weather ones carefully edge away from us and go horribly quiet.

Keep your chin up Tony, we wish you well and look forward to you getting back online again.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Those of us who claim to be completely mentally healthy are lying to ourselves I suggest.

It is a very easy slope to slide down. I'm only where I am today because I keep taking the tablets!