Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How Do They Not Understand?

Part of the Cestrian Dreams Project
Article author: Alwyn Ash

"The phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute. Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity" - Erving Goffman, 1963

How do they not understand? I guess that is the question. For so many of us every day existence is a blank page, no fine tuning or planning, we exist, a simple step of getting from one hour to the next is our single achievement on the worst days. Depending on the severity and condition of the mental illness - and what support structure is in place - we may even find it difficult to get out of bed, eat and wash; simple things to everyone else but activities that need the desire to "live". If we wake late, perhaps 2pm let's say, we are obviously just "lazy". If our hygiene is not up to standard then we are quite clearly filthy, people who take no pride in our appearance. If we are "depressed"...

"Many people who have been stigmatized feel as though they are transforming from a whole person to a tainted one. They feel different and devalued by others. This can happen in the workplace, educational settings, health care, the criminal justice system, and even in their own family."
Extract from "Social Stigma", Wikipedia

Everything has a label. And that is the problem with words such as "depression", "suicide", "breakdown", "self-harm" etc. The list could go on, sadly. One person who I spoke to recently said it best when she commented on how people react to you when they become aware that you have a mental illness - as if you are "crazy", someone who needs to be avoided like a plague. And, of course, there are those with such severe conditions that they are unpredictable, dangerous to either themselves or others. But the majority of sufferers, even those who self-harm like I do, just want to be accepted, understood in some way and encouraged to live a normal life. Whatever a "normal life" actually means. Is life ever really "normal"? Surely it varies with each point of view...?

Is someone who suffers with depression simply making excuses for a life that is far from perfect and who wishes to feel sorry for themselves? If they are unemployed, they must be a burden on the State, especially if they are in receipt of benefits of some kind...?

And there are those who claim to be depressed but in reality are not actually long-term sufferers, simply people who experience short-term low mood - they are not clinically depressed, i.e. not deemed to suffer from a recurrent mental disorder. "Depressed mood is not necessarily a psychiatric disorder. It is a normal reaction to certain life events." However, saying that, never presume that someone you know who is "depressed" hasn't been consumed by genuine mental illness - that is always the danger, that their condition will be overlooked by professionals, friends and family. Always keep an open mind, if you care enough.

"How do they not understand?" is, indeed, the question that needs to be answered. But then, is society not teaching them the right answers? Or are the correct questions not being asked? Perhaps people need to start looking at things differently. But alongside understanding there must be patience, too, the ability to stand by our side and calmly support, in whichever way they can.

Earlier in this article I commented 'activities that need the desire to "live"', and in no way do I suggest that those who suffer with mental illness have no desire to exist or focus on making their life more comfortable and rewarding, I was merely expressing one of many thoughts and feelings that can fill a sufferer's mind, mine for sure - so complex is the nature of depression, how absolutely confusing it can be for both those who feel its wrath personally and those who support alongside. But "understanding" is what needs to be achieved, from every corner, the ability to begin a journey that will open up more than just a wound, whether it be emotional or physical...

...Society needs to play that part...


Cestrian Dreams was founded by Alwyn Ash in December 2012, with the aim of highlighting mental illness, raising awareness, and helping to overcome the stigma associated with the disease. Originally set up with its very own website, Cestrian has now been incorporated with Alwyn's personal site.

"1 in 4 will suffer with some form of mental health issues"