I’ve been reading the comments on this excellent article by Gaby Dunn on Thought Catalog with interest. Particularly the views of commenters who have negative views on therapy and see those who seek it as weak or self-indulgent. The article explains why she tries to be as open as possible about the fact that she’s in therapy.
I think it highlights for me one of the biggest mistakes that we often make in our approach to mental health issues, which is that we focus too much on the ‘mental’ or psychological angle, and forget the health part. This then leads us to treat our mental health in a way that would seem bizarre if we applied it to our physical health.
Earlier this year I was taken into hospital because my mental health had deteriorated to the point where I had an almost irresistible compunction to take my own life. I was experiencing a mental health crisis, and few, I think, would argue that it was wrong for me to have received treatment at this stage.
However, when it comes to conditions where the symptoms are less severe, the support for people receiving medication or entering into talking therapy dwindles. With a considerable number of people believing, as those commenters, that treatment is unnecessary for conditions such as milder depression or anxiety. It is seen as acceptable to tell suffers of these illnesses to pull themselves together, and that they ought to be better able to deal with things.
Now, lets just for a moment look at those two scenarios in the same way that we would if they were physical ailments.
I was treated in a hospital because my life was in danger. My broken brain was trying to kill me. So, basically what I had was the psychological equivalent of stage three cancer, or having been in a serious car accident.
But in order to have reached the psychological equivalent of having stage three cancer, I first passed through stages zero, one and two, as my metal health gradually deteriorated.
This means that at the onset of my illness, when I had only mild depression and anxiety, I was at stage 0-1 of my illness. If it was customary to offer serious intervention and treatment at this stage I might never have progressed to the point of needing hospital treatment.
It would be unthinkable for any one to be in stage one of a serious, potentially life threatening physical illness, and to not be treated. It seems crazy to me that a person seeking treatment at the equivalent stage of a mental illness can be seen as self indulgent.
Even if you think that this comparison is overly dramatic. Surely it can’t be too much of a stretch for you to see the onset of depression as equivalent with the common cold or a serious headache? You could even at a push stretch it to the flu, maybe?
Who would fail to take action at the onset of any of these illness? Even those who are wary of building up a tolerance to over the counter remedies would buy a box of tissues if they felt a cold coming on.
And yet it can be seen as normal, and appropriate, that people with mental health issues should dismiss these warning signs and only seek treatment when they are poorly enough to need hospitalising.
I think that we, as a society, need to take mental illness far more seriously, and adopt much more of a ‘health care’ approach to dealing with it. It should be second nature to have your psychological equivalent of a box of tissues, and to make use of it whenever you feel the need for it.