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It’s hard to talk about mental health, especially on a platform as scrutinised as the internet, without legitimising your stance with a prologue of your own personal mental health issues. Therefore, I hope my story is enough to qualify my two cents on the matter. If not, I beg forgiveness and, without a hint of irony or sarcasm (as my tone of writing often suggests), apologise for the insensitivity.
At 22, I have been exposed to mental health issues, both personally and by proxy, for the best part of a decade. For those who struggle to grasp how a 12-year-old could possibly understand the complexities of what we tend to see as an incredibly mature "range" of illnesses, you can imagine my own confusion when on one particularly memorable sleepover a friend revealed those now oh-so-familiar scratch marks up her left arm. At 13 I had talked down my first suicide. Another discussion may be had about the legitimacy of mental health issues in relation to puberty and "attention seeking"—but believe me when I tell you that for me it was a very real experience. By the time I finished school I had stumbled across depression after anxiety after eating disorder and by the time I finished my undergraduate I had some experience of depression after anxiety after eating disorder. In short, mental health issues are not a fad, once a year discussion of bravery and perseverance. This shit is my life and I breathe it every day. And I’m not special in this sense: this is not a unique experience. It’s everyone’s lives. It has, however uncomfortably, become a part of the norm.
I will leave wiggle-room here for the argument that I am a radical, liberal "youth" who tends to hang around with other radical, liberal "youths" and therefore my social circles are not entirely representative of a general population. However, I think I can safely say that mental health issues are growing more and more prominent within mainstream culture every passing year. When I think back to how I would naively attempt to tackle these issues when I was younger, armed with only the very basic information available; I shudder. I’ll just say this, if fully-grown medical professionals still can’t alleviate the effects of mental health deterioration, an 11-year-old with a dictionary certainly can’t. The increase in research, discussion platforms and even just acknowledgement of the issue, just over the past few years, is astonishing. And, although not always positive, progressive.
As we focus today on the hashtag "WorldMentalHealthDay" and I reflect on the world’s progress in dealing with these issues (note to self: research the treatment of mental health in non-western societies for next year), I keep coming back to themes of credibility and legitimacy. I’m not going to go into what "qualifies" someone to participate in this discussion—but I am going to talk about the now ever-growing and diverse ways to "cure" mental health issues.
As stated previously, we’ve come a long way from looking up "depression" in a dictionary. Treatments that vary from the medical to the social to the outright absurd, haven’t necessarily "increased" but have evolved and grown to be more vocal and most importantly, more accessible. This has obvious positive effects, allowing people a much greater opportunity to find a treatment, or in fact multiple treatments, that work and are effective for them. But with this variety, this spectrum, there’s a growing tendency to stigmatise certain kinds of treatment.
Now the whole treatment, recovery, relapse cycle is a deeply personal thing and it is understandable why people disregard a certain treatment because it didn’t work for them. However, combine this with external "opinions" saying shit like "don’t take drugs because you’ll become dependent" or "so-and-so did a marathon and now they’re CURED" and suddenly treatments are profiled. Each has a reputation and an expectation attached to it. And it can be incredibly off putting.
Thinking of ways we ourselves can help in this crisis, I propose that there is an emerging attitude problem. It’s hard enough as it is to motivate yourself to find a treatment guys. Why do we then create an environment where those treatments can be considered undesirable or even villainised? When there are known cases of success? Now I’m not saying that there aren’t bad ways to try and treat mental health problems, heck I could write a novel on that alone: but if a treatment is working for someone—even if it’s literally just one person—then we shouldn’t deter people from it. Let’s not make this harder on ourselves.
There are pros and cons for everything. Self-care can help establish independence and control but often neglects socialisation. CBT allows you to identify specific issues that need to be dealt with but often fails to provide ways to deal with them. Even by just writing those examples I’m adding to the narrative of their reputation and I apologise. But my point is, let’s not be so quick to disregard these treatments, especially when the stakes are this high. Speaking as someone who takes a somewhat unorthodox approach to tackling their own mental health issues, this is something that does affect me. A treatment is legitimate if it works for you, we have enough on our plates as it is, there is no room for us to be bickering amongst ourselves about the ‘right way to do it’.
If something works for you and you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, no matter how bizarre or fantastical, no matter how insignificant or quiet it may be: keep doing it. You deserve to be happy, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says about it.