Monday, 15 December 2014

Dichotomy of Honesty

I just saw a post on Facebook from an anxiety sufferer. It was shared by Time to Change, and the headline quote mentioned that despite years of living with mental health issues the individual still worried about the reaction of other people.

It made me think about my own experience, as it relates to explaining my giving up alcohol. When I focused fully on getting well, after allowing myself a year to recover from working at Canterbury College and making very little headway, I was told to give up drinking.

The reason for this, aside from the fact that you're not really meant to drink with Sertraline, was a flippant remark made during a consultation. The person asking the questions asked me if I could do various things, including not drink for a period. I flippantly said, "I dunno about that".

I'm not sure if it was a get out clause for them, but within minutes I'd been bumped from the mental health team to a substance misuse support charity. Realising that this could be a barrier to me getting future support I promptly gave up drinking completely.

After this I had various meetings with the charity in question, who were very helpful, but ultimately they referred me on to another group, which I never quite got round to contacting, and I eventually disappeared from the mental health radar altogether (bar repeat prescriptions).

Leaving aside the fact that somebody with mental ill health probably should be chased up somewhat more aggressively by the support services, and the fact that I am broadly coping these days, my somewhat rambling point here relates to my reactions to other people.

I met up with some former colleagues on Friday, and a number commented on my not drinking. Despite the fact that I've been pretty honest about my situation online, I found myself dissembling when it came to explaining my new found sobriety.

I don't know if it was a residual need to be liked by my former colleagues or just general embarrassment, but I only really told the truth to one person, and he already knew my circumstances. In retrospect this was a somewhat strange stance.

Admittedly a Christmas party is probably not the place to hold a mental health support group, but feeling like I had to hide a part of myself in such a public setting when I feel able to open up online is pretty nonsensical really.

It does make me think though. Part of the difficulty in breaking the stigma around mental health is going to be getting people to feel comfortable in opening up about their circumstance, as well as doing so in the right ways of course.

When I worked in FE for example I became so stressed that, when put in a totally inappropriate situation by a manager, I actually opened up in the worst way possible (in front of students whilst extremely angry). The result was a demotion and redundancy.

That's a far from ideal experience and was probably totally preventable, but on the plus side it did eventually get me out of a situation that was causing me a great deal of harm. That said though, it certainly was not something that should have happened in the way it did.

In retrospect I often wonder if I could have changed that situation for the better, not least by leaving the room earlier (when I was told to leave the room I did so and promptly smashed a window and got ten stitches for my troubles).

Anyway, I'll get back to my point. Ending the stigma around mental health is going to require changing the mindset of the sufferer as well as everyone else. It can no longer be acceptable to keep things bottled up to the point of being a danger.

I do wonder how many people keep quiet about their mental ill health, even when being treated, to the point that they do eventually explode with the truth in a way that doesn't help them. Maybe an end to stigma will have a knock on effect in this scenario too.

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