THERE IS SO MUCH WE DO NOT KNOW
And yet if we communicate, we can often be that small but crucial influence on a life, that will tilt the balance for the better between devastation and hope…
43. Mary Stokes Singer
From when I was about three or four years old, mental health challenges have been a dominant, constant reality in my life. I grew up the youngest of a beautiful family, with five big brothers and two sisters. I was always immensely proud of all my siblings – I remember talking of them all with real pride as a very small kid. I continue to be immensely proud of them all. Sadly, the absolutely devastating toll of schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and mental health issues wreaked complete havoc in our world.
In a family desperately trying to do the right thing, with willing and committed parents who lived for their children, the absolute lack of supports – never mind adequate supports – that continue today had a massive impact. We were a family left ‘to deal’ with these incomprehensible difficulties. We were left ‘to deal’ with the ugliness and ineffectiveness of psychiatric treatment. We were left ‘to deal’ with the violations and incapacities of psychiatric services, and left ‘to cope’ with the shame, the guilt, the savage remorse and terrible tragic consequences of an inadequate system.
Everything in my life is affected by that history and the ongoing personal challenges that are often a result. I do not take any such issues lightly. My career in music. My love of Blues. My career as a singer and songwriter . Everything I venerate and appreciate in the Arts. My work in education. My commitment to guidance counselling. Every moment of every day, from day to day engagement with people to thinking on society and our world – everything is informed by my years of experience of familial psychiatric problems, personal mental health issues and sometimes tragic outcomes.
Although I recognise that the woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of mental health I saw first-hand was ‘of a time’, I suggest that many of these issues remain – notably the lack of understanding and shared open discussion that is so important on these topics. That, I accept, is improving slowly. But what of the need for funded and genuinely co-operative services, of follow up care and a serious commitment to offering support to everyone affected by these issues?
I think that it is absolutely vital that our understanding of Mental Health includes a better acknowledgement of the differences and characteristics of mental health disorders and difficulties, along with realistic and responsible attention to the types of treatments that are available, and which are considered to be appropriate for those categories – treatments that can be effective and useful.
We also need to recognise that we have to keep talking, thinking and communicating; and, above all, tackling the old aura of stigma associated with mental distress head on.
Because the reality is that, when it comes to Mental Health, there is so much that we just DO NOT KNOW. We don’t fully know causes, or cures, not with any real authority. Perhaps, at best, we can mitigate the impacts. But if we are engaged, we will, perhaps, at least understand better.
Despite advances, what is clear is that we remain vulnerable creatures. Many, if not all of us, teeter on the brink of ‘sanity’ at every moment. What is perhaps useful, then, is to remember that, while acknowledging our frailty, we should also remember our strength.
It is good to acknowledge that we – as individuals – can often be that small but crucial influence on a life, that will tilt the balance for the better between devastation and hope, between destruction and growth. As a community, these are the things that we CAN take individual and collective responsibility for.
Be kind, be decent, imagine you are in that place of turmoil and pain; try to understand, try to accept without judging. You may well deserve to feel angry or hurt – but we must do everything we can to keep listening and sharing and communicating.
So, public awareness and developing a caring society is paramount. But understanding the roles and responsibilities attached to every ‘mental health’ policy or programme is also key. It is getting better here in Ireland, but there’s still a long way to go.