more mental health (a rant)

It’s mental health awareness week, and you are now aware of mental health. Good.

Eat your greens. Get a good amount of sleep each night. Exercise outdoors. Drink less alcohol. Don’t smoke. Talk to your friends. Be fitter, happier, more productive.

On you can share your resolutions to check your phone less frequently while out with friends, or call your mother once a week.

On my work intranet (and no doubt on many others across the UK) there are statistics about the ‘staggering’ number of work days lost to mental illness each year. Alongside this are helpful tips about avoiding stress and making sure all employees take their 30min break each day.

I just don’t get it. I’ll admit it now: I’m mentally ill, so perhaps that is why I am missing the point. I don’t get how sharing the number of work days lost to mental illness is supposed to break the stigma. I don’t get why there is such a focus on living a healthy lifestyle when it comes to mental health. Why not recommend eating well, sleeping restfully and exercising appropriately for physical health too?

I make an effort to eat and sleep well, and I walk at least 2 miles in the open air each day, and I’m still not ok. These things help, but they are not a solution in themselves.

I go to bed early (having done all the right things to ensure restful sleep) and lie awake with my mind racing. I wake up feeling heavy, confused and exhausted. My 30min break each day is not long enough for me to eat lunch and get some air or some quiet time alone – I have to choose which one of these things I need the most that day, and forgo the other. And I’m tired, all the time. Tired in a way which slows me down, clouds my mind, drains the life out of me. And tired of constantly checking off this endless list of things to do to make myself better, so I can prove I am doing everything I can. So I can prove it’s not my fault I have this illness. I have ‘got a grip’, I have ‘pulled my socks up’, I have ‘managed my work-life balance’ (in that I’ve sacrificed my life in order to be able to work without people, for the most part, noticing how ill I really am), I have ‘made my mental health resolutions’.

I’ve done all of these things and I’m still not better. It’s going to take a long time to get better.

I don’t need to be told how to live my life more healthily, or how my illness contributes to a nationwide lack of productivity.

When I mess up at work because of mental illness – as I did on Monday, pushing myself too hard and then having to go home – I need understanding. I need people to know how we can all expect my illness to impact on everything, so that we can plan for it, instead of leaving me to alternately excel and underperform, and constantly hate myself for it. *That* would go a long way towards breaking the stigma. But I don’t expect it to happen any time soon.


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