There are times when I think Mental Health is moving forward, that the walls of stigma are breaking down, that people are more open and then I see. read, or hear something that makes me think, “Yeah, maybe, but the sun is not yet shining as brightly as we think.”
Case in point. I recently read an article by a gentleman in Australia. The bi-line read that he ‘is one of Australia’s best-known people-management thinkers.’ In this one particular article it identified that some people who claim to have a mental illness are nothing more than malingerers or fakers and that all you need to ferret out who falls in this category is issue a warning letter or a similar action and things will change ‘until the next time they get away with it’. I am simplifying here but that was the message. The assault on this article was fast and swift by those who have lived experience, those who work in the field, or those who are a friend or family member. The article in itself showed great insensitivity towards those may be dealing with a legitimate mental illness. His apology later posted at the top of the article was short and to the point…
“Since publishing this article, an enormous amount of feedback on social media has made me realise it was poorly written and insensitive. This has been unfair on those with a mental illness and their loved ones. This was never my intention. My intention was to achieve the opposite. At this I clearly failed. I’m genuinely sorry.”
Having checked out other articles that this person has written, I am sure that he truly never did mean harm, but the reality is he may have caused harm through his lack of thinking and his lack of understanding the challenges that exist for people dealing with mental illnesses, and of the stigma that is often connected with having a mental illness. This type of article can be enough for someone to think “There’s no point saying anything, they will just think I am faking it to get time off or trying to get out of work.” And the end result is another employee suffering in silence, afraid to let their employer know that they need help. The apology was appreciated and was sincere, but even then, being at the top of the page, it was easy to miss if you went to the main article.
Even outside the workplace this perspective exists. I was speaking with a person this week who has a member of their family dealing with mental health issues, namely depression and anxiety. The person I was speaking with has had experience with other people who have mental illnesses but is new to having a family member. One of the concerns that was raised by the person was the believability of the depression and anxiety diagnosis by others as ‘everyone has it these days’ and that it isn’t really something to be seen on the same spectrum as other mental health issues. This person is in an area of work that I would have expected to be more aware, and yet she wasn’t. (And yes, I did some education.)
It is important to consider for a person with a mental illness who has trouble coping at the moment, perhaps it is taking such emotional fortitude to make it through the day that when they go home, the ability to eat, connect with family / friends, do homework, focus on day to day tasks is more than they can manage and their world day by day looks bleaker, graye and more but to the outside world – ” They look fine“.
These two situations and other conversations in the past week has made me see that even with the ads, the Tweets, the posters, the videos on mental health, and how it can affect anyone from the A-student, to the Doctor, to the plant worker, to the stay-at-home parent, there are many who still do not appreciate the scope of the issue, that just because someone seems FINE does not mean they are; that there is still more awareness to raise and information to share.