If you love a person,
you accept the total person.
With all the defects.
Because those defects are a part of the person.
Never try to change a person you love,
because the very effort to change says that you love half,
and the other half of the person is not accepted .
When you love,
you simply love.
Having suffered from depression and anxiety for years, I can say from a personal point of view that assuming those with mental illness are just ‘acting out’ and not really suffering is as ridiculous as saying to someone with a broken leg ‘just walk on it, I’m sure it won’t be that painful!’. We would never say that to somebody with a broken leg, so what is so superior about a leg that it’s allowed to be ill and the brain isn’t? There’s still a long way to go until society reaches a level of understanding and acceptance of mental health problems that’s on par with physical health.
Stigma surrounding mental health is still rife. Sadly, society is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that the brain isn’t exempt from illness. The consequences of this stigma, such as someone experiencing mental health difficulties not asking for help, can have catastrophic effects. Their quality of life, work and relationships can be severely affected. Tragically, silence can also lead to suicide. It’s vital that as a society we keep talking, and if we don’t understand mental illness, then it’s very important we learn to listen. The phrase ‘pull it together’ is still heard far too often, many of those with anxiety are not strangers to being called drama queens and the expression ‘I’m just a bit OCD’ has become synonymous with neatness.
That said, I would say that stigma is decreasing – at least in many areas of UK society. With increasing amounts of research surrounding mental health, and people gradually opening up about their experiences, society is in the process of accepting that we as humans have fluctuating mental and physical health. There are many charities and organisations doing their best to raise awareness and decrease the stigma of mental illness. There are also national mental health weeks, CAMHS service reforms and numerous influential individuals, including celebrities, campaigning for greater awareness and knowledge of mental health problems. Society is changing for the better and it’s important we all continue being open and speaking up, to make sure this change continues.
It’s vital that if someone is struggling they reach out to somebody they trust. This can be very scary, so it’s very important the person being confided in listens and really tries to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, without passing judgement. As Dilys Haner says, “If you can react with empathy and non-judgment, you’ll help counter the stigma around mental illness that might be making it difficult for them to seek help. Empathy means you listen – really listen – and be in that moment with them. Be genuinely curious about what the situation is like for them rather than making assumptions. With empathy, you’re more likely to work on what they would consider as potential next steps, rather than taking their control away and making it less likely that they will talk to you again in the future.” When I’m struggling, I find it really important the person I’m confiding in takes the time to understand how I’m feeling, without assuming they know already. It also really helps that they accept the way I’m feeling, without making me feel I ‘should’ be feeling something else. Richard Weissbourd says, “Children find out who they are and what’s meaningful to them in part when adults are able, without an agenda, to listen in a relaxed way and to reflect back their understandings and share their knowledge of the world.” Having supportive people to help guide me through my emotions, whilst I’m trying to make sense of the situation I’m in, helps me feel both contained and empowered, instead of oppressed and infantilised.
To make sure we keep giving children and young people the best possible support, it’s imperative we keep letting them know we’re here to help them, and most importantly, that we’re here to help them find themselves. Young people and children, in particular adolescents, are going through a stage of their life which is full of change, growing up and external pressures. They need a lot of support and guidance, but they also need to feel they’re being treated as equals and autonomous beings. To be helpful, the person the child or young person is confiding in doesn’t have to be a professional. Compassion, care and their time are the most important things a person can give to a child or young person, to help them feel less alone in their struggles.
There’s still a long way to go until society reaches a place where there isn’t a disparity between physical and mental health, but there is a lot of positive change happening and that gives me hope that one day, everybody with mental illness will be treated with the same amount of compassion and respect as those with physical illnesses. Until then, it’s vital we make sure children and young people are getting the help they deserve, and that our actions of acceptance around mental health continue being the catalysts of change.
About the author
Hi, I’m Nina. I’m 20 years old and will soon be starting university to study Psychology. I’m passionate about spreading awareness of mental health and the foster care system. My interest in inpatient mental health care stems from the period of hospitalisation I experienced for Anorexia Nervosa, half of which was spent as a detained patient. I now live with my foster mum and foster brother. My biological brother spends a lot of time round at ours’ as well. I am now in recovery from Anxiety and Depression and have recovered from my eating disorder.