Mental health conditions are part of being human – that’s the truth.
Rewind to 18-years-ago (when I first started experiencing feelings of sadness, self-loathing, and a shattering sense of worthlessness) being ‘depressed’ didn’t bode too well in mainstream society.
Growing up as a young teenager, I was encouraged to stay quiet, and to get on with it because my loved ones feared that people would question my upbringing (after-all, people were only allowed to be depressed if they had experienced severe trauma and/or abuse), and/or judge me for being not normal.
In fact, having a mental health condition at one time even hindered employability!
It quite blatantly resulted in prejudice decisions in a professional capacity, where employers would try and avoid mental health like the plague.
You see depression (and other mental health disorders) were (and still are) regarded as an invisible disability, and not for the right reasons. They come with an expectation that the person suffering isn’t FIT to work, and that the person may be unreliable in the workplace.
Thankfully this misjudgement is changing for the better, with new incentives being introduced by the Government to encourage employers to give those with a condition the chance to work, and the opportunity to thrive!
But what changed?
I think as science has evolved so too has our compassion and understanding of emotions.
And whilst I’m grateful in so many ways because my children will not have to grow up in a world where suppressing emotions is ‘the way’ to succeed in business,
I’m also afraid because I’ve also witnessed a society where it is no longer safe to have an opinion because of mental health disorders.
I believe there is a happy medium somewhere between
- where we were back then and
- where we are today,
And it’s so very important to embrace that place before our society becomes one of dictatorship and not democracy.
When did having *any* opinion translate to the discrimination of someone’s, SOMEWHERE disability in some way?!
I experienced this myself a few months ago when I wrote an honest review about the show ‘Pooch Perfect’ – in it, I concluded that while the contestants were incredibly brave and talented, the show itself wasn’t highlighting the role of the groomer in the best way.
In a matter of hours I was receiving death threats, hate mail, and one rather shocking insinuation that went something like this,
“you should watch what you say as you don’t know how that will affect the contestant’s mental health” and “just think of Caroline Flack”.
Those very statements were poignant validations to me that the world we live in is a very dangerous one indeed, and a clear-as-day indication that being more aware of mental health has its bad points too.
The worry for me is that our children are not being taught much resiliency, and that ‘freedom of speech’ has more and more contraindications as the years go on.
Our children are less and less likely to cope with criticism because we are now allowing them to believe that it is an infringement of their mental health to be told they have made a mistake, or could have done better… and as a parent, I believe that’s so, so wrong.
My eldest and I were completing his homework during the first lockdown (he’s six years old). As I checked over his work, I had told him to try and get his lettering within the guide lines next time. This resulted in a meltdown of tears and “I’m not good enough” and “I can’t do anything right”.
I was so shocked. But I’m noticing it in many children of his generation.
We need to know how to take on board feedback constructively, right? How else might we improve our skills.
Whether we like it or not we are bound to face differences of opinion regarding certain things, but does that mean that half of us should be silenced?
While it is utterly unacceptable to target a person personally we must be sure to build our children’s ability to learn from their mistakes with an open mind without the fear of them crumbling at the first hurdle.
In a wonderful little pocket book called ‘The Four Agreements’, Chapter Two says “don’t take it personally”.
It goes on to say that taking things personally is an act of selfishness and that it opens the door to destruction and self-sabotage. Being offended, and offensive of your own personal opinion is just the same as forcing your own opinion onto another.
What you believe is your personal right to believe, but doesn’t give you the right to enforce it on another.
And that’s what it comes down to.
While we have to be mindful of our words (another of the chapters of said book), we must also be willing to accept and respect that we will not always agree with the words of others, and that is the beauty of diversity.
While I encourage my own children to freely express their emotions, they are also taught that it is important to respect another’s and not take it personally.
My depression used to limit my progress back when I allowed the hype and stereotype of mental health disorders to dictate who I was, and what it meant to be “depressed”.
I took EVERYTHING personally. I suffered big time and as a result my physical body, my concentration and my sociability skills also suffered. I was in bed most days, I would eat a lot and then starve myself, and I would contemplate ending life most days of the week.
Until I learnt that everyone experienced the same feelings in their lifetime, and I wasn’t alone.
That changed my entire perspective and motivated me to stop obsessing over WHY I was feeling a certain way, and whether it was “right” or “wrong”.
My motto became: Let it pass.
Being told I might be the cause of someone’s *maybe* suicide was indeed an eye-opener but I can imagine not in the way that person expected – it taught me that people are very much consumed by stereotypes and by the limitations that a mass of opinions can put upon people who are labelled.
But the point is, people who are depressed are not like glass houses – we are all made up of much stronger pliable stuff, right?
And while I know that there are extremes to each condition, and it’s not always as simple as mind over matter, I still believe it’s important to remind ourselves not to take the opinions of others so personally (unless of course, it is actually personal!).
And I’ll admit that the statement made me angry (because I took it personally), but then I recalled that little book of wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz and suddenly I was more concerned than anything else.
Mental Health is a part of life – we all experience the highs and lows of emotions, in our own very personal and individual ways but one thing I can say from my own experience is that being vulnerable isn’t the same thing as being weak.
And that regardless, we should all be prepared to embrace one another’s opinions with compassion, and respect without trying to enforce our own.