What we talk about when we talk about mental health

by Jane Barber

Part one of a series on Mental Health

For HealthIn New Zealand we aren’t very good at talking about mental illness. Or mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 20% of New Zealanders have had some experience of mental disorder in the past twelve months.  That equates to about 880,000 New Zealanders, i.e. fucking heaps.

The problem is that for most of us, we only find out about the mental health challenges that those around us face if something really awful happens. Something like a suicide attempt, or being fired, or failing at University, or committing a crime, or just generally fucking life up so badly that either we notice, or are told.

For every person that has a major, public struggle with mental illness, there are countless more that are getting by, or being treated, or just barely holding their shit together and have managed not to tell anyone.

This is problematic in a number of ways.  First, it perpetuates the stereotype of mental illness essentially rendering its sufferers as unable to function in ‘normal society’. Second, it makes people extremely resistant to seeking help if they start to suffer from symptoms of mental illness, because they don’t want that stereotype attached to them, or worse, that what they are dealing with “ isn’t bad enough” to warrant treatment or concern.

It’s all a bit of a Catch 22 – we can’t talk about mental health because of the stigma attached to it, but we can’t destroy that stigma without talking about it. As a bi-sexual woman, in my experience it has been harder to be “out” with my friends, family and colleagues that I suffer from a mental illness (which I will expand on in later posts) than it is about being queer.

I’m now pretty open about my diagnosis with my friends and current colleagues, but here I am, writing under a pseudonym, because who knows where my career may take me in the future. I’m proud of this writing, and I’m certainly not ashamed about my diagnosis but I still don’t want this to be first thing a future employer finds if they Google me.

I don’t know how to solve this, and I don’t even really know how to begin talking about talking about mental health.

What I hope, is that if I get brave enough to talk about my experience to people beyond my immediate circle, even under a pseudonym, then maybe one day I can come back and republish this under my own name and not worry about how that might impact my career.  Here’s hoping.



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1 comment

zuisg.com April 18, 2013 - 1:52 am

Thanks for using some time to create “The Ruminator :: What we talk about when we talk about mental health”.
Thanks once more ,Florentina


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