Mental health, physical health, questions and metaphors

I have been pondering this for a day or two after reading a Tweet from someone that compared being depressed to having a broken leg. The comparison is that I would not tell someone on crutches to just get over it and go for a run, so why should people with depression or any other mental health issue be expected to just snap out of it?  

I understand the comparison that is being made, and I do despair that many people believe mental health problems can be dealt with in a simplistic manner. That a simple ‘buck up’ or ‘snap out of it’ or ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’ will do the trick. I think that more conversations about mental health are only a good thing. I see the language of cancer, and how everyone ‘bravely battles’ the disease, with millions of pounds of research and fundraising and I wonder what that would look like transposed to depression. How people that ‘bravely battle’ their demons every day are stigmatised by society and assumed to be dangerous. How many families are missing someone because of a suicide or other early death but live with the guilt and worry over whether they could have done something differently, or find people unwilling to listen or empathise with their loss? Or how it’s OK for ECT to rob someone of their memory (“just a mild side effect”) or for meds to have side-effects that are debilitating (these are the drugs for the illness, these are the ones that stop the seizures that those drugs cause, these are the ones that stop the tremors caused by the ones to stop the seizures)Can you imagine how fast we’d have found and funded an alternative if the everyday cancer treatment had, as a side effect, permanent memory loss?

Anyway. The point of this blog post and the reason for the musing is back to the broken leg metaphor. If you broke your leg then of course I would not expect you to run with me. But I would encourage you to do see a physiotherapist and do their prescribed exercises so that your rehab was comprehensive. And I would look forward to you to being able to run with me again when you’re fixed. If you were dealing with depression I would do the same thing. I would want you to follow the advice of your mental health professional. I would encourage you to do the small things of daily life that keep it running – like shopping or laundry. Mental exercises, perhaps. And yes, I know that would be difficult, just as I know that physio exercises are hard,  hurt and take effort.  So I think I want to ask the questions: when is it OK to push someone, when is it OK to mollycoddle? Is it mollycoddling to do a depressed friend’s shopping?  What about doing it every week? Is it OK to be angry when you long for someone to recover, and come run alongside you again, but they can’t, or won’t, do their exercises…?

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One thought on “Mental health, physical health, questions and metaphors

  1. Thank you for asking the questions at the end. I think that there is a middle way between the “snap out of it” approach and leaving someone to wallow in their misery whilst caring for their physical needs.
    It’s the encouraging voice that tells me that I can do something if I simply take the first step. The person who shows me where that step is and supports me while I take it. The person who makes it possible for me to express my fears, my anxieties and my nightmares without being censorious or putting me down.
    Telling me I’m stupid for being scared of snakes is not going to do anything for my self-esteem and is certainly not going to get me to like snakes any better; getting me to approach a snake in a safe environment might help me to not freak out when one suddenly appears on the wildlife TV programmes my other half loves so much.
    My lifesaver, not literally, has been the online group managed by Mind – the charity for better mental health. The Elephant in the Room is at http://www.facebook.com/mindelephant where you can find people with all kinds of mental health problems from a wide variety of backgrounds.

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