LISTEN UP: on anger, panaceas, and “solutions” to mental illness

LISTEN UP: I’ve had mental health issues, including moderate to severe PTSD, anxiety, depression, and mood instability since I was a pre-teen.  I have many people in my life who’ve gone through similar struggles. Two decades later, I still see people say “keep your chin up/try yoga/meditation/eating differently/this magical therapy that helped me”. NO. Please just STOP. If you think I (and others with the same or similar struggle) haven’t tried all and sundry to feel well, just stop, shut your mouth, and reconsider your position. The fact that I still have people tell me “just get over it – that’s what I did/do!” when I have a mental health crisis is tiresome beyond belief. People with mental health issues deal with enough utter nonsense like that from our employers and our woefully inadequate mental healthcare system – not to mention from our own brains, which continually love to troll us. We don’t need it from people in our social circles and from those who love us.

Our brains are chemically altered by our life experience, and some are simply born with chemical balances, to boot. The scariest part of a mental health crisis is that there is generally no quick fix. It’s a long, hard road to re-wire your brain. For most of us, it is both a daily struggle and an entire life’s work. Many of us with PTSD stemming from traumatic events will have to deal with that condition our entire lives – and those of us who are marginalised in some way will often experience trauma again and again, which exacerbates our existing mental health issues, sometimes exponentially.

I’ve observed that the three basic responses to our mental health struggles are: 1. Just get over it/keep your chin up, 2. Try this one magical panacea that will make you get over it/keep your chin up. 3. Run away because it’s all too much/too scary/you can’t do anything. These are all essentially wrong. The ONE key thing to remember is to stop trying to solve mental illness. You won’t be able to, so don’t even attempt it.

The best sort of response to someone struggling with their mental health or a mental illness is some sort of expression of sympathy/empathy and solidarity. If they need help with practical things (and they usually will), offer to help: bring them food, cook them dinner, make tea, do some shopping for them, buy them a little treat, write them a letter, check in with them regularly and send them some love. Offer to do these things, and ask them what else you could do to help them. Above all, continue to be kind and supportive. That’s all many of us with mental health struggles need and it’s all you can do (and more importantly, it’s relatively easy for you to do). Many of us have the issues that we do because people in our lives haven’t demonstrated basic decency and care. Demonstrating these things is a truly radical act in a society that treats the mentally ill, the vulnerable, and the marginalised like garbage. If there is indeed a panacea, it is the creation of a society that truly shows care and respect for us.