When we get a thorn in our palm, we don’t ignore it and assume it will go away. We all know how it has the potential to swell, embed itself deeper and become infected, and so we do everything we can to pull it out once we know it’s there.
Why would we treat our minds, with its infinite number of complexities, any differently?
Much like with a thorn, even a very small and manageable moment of despair can quickly swell and spread and become something much bigger and more damaging to our overall well being. It can infect not only our minds, but our bodies and the minds of others around us.
Instead, we allow fear and the fear of what others think of us keep our lips sealed and to keep the pressure in. We have no evidence that it is what these people are thinking, or would think, but we decide that’s what they must be thinking, accept that as fact and act accordingly.
It is a dangerous mindset that is so easy to get in to on the Island. And, in reality, it’s completely pointless.
Since I began speaking more openly about mental health and speaking to others, I have found the following to be true:
Nobody really cares.
It has taken my ego a longer time than most to come to terms with it, but the Manx public don’t really care about me and my business. The enormous majority of the Island have never heard of me, and for the rest of them who do, “Lorcan has depression” isn’t exactly jaw-dropping press-stopping headline news.
I was never a special case, and nothing someone hadn’t dealt with before. That doesn’t mean my fight isn’t just as real; it just wasn’t something that nobody would understand.
Most people will have a story of them or someone close to them struggling with their mental health – the more we hear and share these stories, the more we move away from that position of supposed isolation.
The ideas I had about how much people would care were formulated in my mind, and I allowed myself to act on those assumptions instead of understanding the truth.
I’m not a special case, and I’m not abnormal. In reality, there is no such thing as normal.
The people who care don’t matter.
In an ideal world, I would tell you that everyone will understand and accept you. I can’t. It’s an unfortunate truth that there are people who approach mental health, and those who suffer with the effects of it, from a wildly outdated and unfortunately ignorant point of view.
Some take this approach as a result of a lack of education on the matter. That’s something we can all change, and something we hope to change through this initiative. It’s something that is perhaps seen more on the Island than most places, simply due to the lack of openness and availability of information around the subject matter.
Those old ideas might be hangovers, from the days when mental health wasn’t accepted as something that exists as its own branch of medicine. The mentally ill were family secrets and hushed conversations. Those suffering with the worst of it were locked up away from the public eye, and seen as hopeless burdens on the state.
We’ve come a long way since then, but not far enough.
Some advice comes from a place of misplaced fear, due to a misunderstanding of the diagnosis. Some advice might simply be limited to “pull yourself together / get a grip”.
It’s not that their approach is one of malicious dismissal of your struggles – it’s just a lack of awareness of the very real effects of mental health or lack of information as to what the best advice can be. These ideas can be challenged and updated.
Others, unfortunately, won’t. Others are stuck in their dangerous opinions, either through willing ignorance or through willing discrimination.
Some think they are immune from the ‘weakness’ of mental health, and as a result, can often ignore their own struggles. Others might use it purposefully as an outward facing shell to protect themselves from the pain of addressing something they have never been able to come to terms with.
Some of these people will very often save you a lot of time and effort by weeding themselves out as people you don’t need in your life, either in a personal or professional capacity. Others will show themselves as people who would benefit from the normalisation of mental health more than most.
It’s something that took me a very long time to realise, but you only need to surround yourself with the people who are good for you and your mental health. Speaking of which:
The people who matter do care.
Think of all the horrendous things your friends and family already know about you.
The awkward teenage trends you demanded you were in to for life that you melt at the thought of.
The times you drank so much that only they were able to recall your night for you, in all its hideous details.
Those deep dark secrets that you hold about each other like two countries mutually agreeing not to nuke each other.
Through all that, they love you. They love you through your fallouts, your reconciliations, and the times when you drifted apart for a while. They love you despite and because of your scars, bruises, and warts.
Some even know exactly how you got those scars, bruises and warts.
Admitting to them that you’re under the weather, or that you cannot find any motivation to continue existing, isn’t going to do anything to change that. They’ve been the people who have watched you shit yourself, vomit on them and get naked in front of strangers. Some even saw you do it as a child, too.
They’re the people who are still in your life despite all of that. They will understand. They will listen. They won’t judge. If they do, maybe they’ll do you a favour and confirm something you’ve suspected about them for a while.
They’re the same people who have been worried about how quiet you’ve been. They’re the people who have wanted to ask you if you need help, but didn’t know how to approach the subject. They’re the people who only want the very best for you, and will do anything in their power to get you back to your best you.
The burden you’ve been carrying won’t be a burden to them if you share it. If anything, you opening up to them might be a burden off their shoulders too. Just because something weighs the world on your shoulders and is something you can’t deal with, doesn’t mean it will weigh just as heavy on them. It’s much easier to help someone move house, when you know what kind of stuff they need help moving and what tools they might need you to bring.
These people you talk to, will be the people who will unquestioningly drive you to the doctor or a therapist, and pick you up afterwards (in every sense of the word). Speaking of which, again:
Medical professionals are really bad at spreading gossip.
They’ve seen worse. Much worse. Your problems are their bread and butter, and they know how to address them without judgment or embarrassment.
Your news isn’t even worth spreading, compared to the shit they’ve seen. Not that they would ever tell you about it. They legally can’t! They’re paid to listen to you, and bound to tell only those people who really need to know it.
They will take you completely seriously from the first step, and treat you seriously as a result.
They will listen to everything you have to say, every concern you have, and they will take the panic of not knowing what to do out of your hands.
The burden that weighs so heavy on your shoulders, that you might still be concerned about getting someone close to you to help with, is something they deal with every day. They know all the right people, and know the route you need to start yourself on, in order to find the road to recovery.
That being said, it can be very difficult to work out how to see those signposts in the first place. It’s much easier to get the best help and take the first step when you know what direction you need to go.
That’s where charities like The Lisa Lowe Centre can come in. They are something I wish existed when I was first coming to terms with my mental health at the age of 16.
The truth of it is that Mental Health services on the Isle of Man are in a shocking state. MHKs have referred to the service as being in crisis, and once you enter the system it’s easy to see why.
They’re underfunded and understaffed. The minimum waiting list to see a specialist from initial referral by your GP can be from six months (unless you can afford private healthcare) and immediately available community healthcare through the NHS is almost non-existent.
In my own personal experience, the only time I got immediate attention, which some mental health issues need, was when I made plans to end my own life. Nobody should feel that they have to get to that point before they receive the help they need.
Six months is a long time when it comes to mental health. For some, it’s too long.
Services that you can be seen within six months do exist, and are available to the Manx public. They have existed for a long time. They exist in a wide range of fantastic charities across the Island.
All of which exist to help you, and all of which are available to assist you today.
As an example of just one, The Lisa Lowe Centre employs a number of fully qualified specialist therapists, and aim to respond to your query within the day if not sooner. If they can’t offer you the services you need, they can help point you towards someone who can.
The infrastructure is there on the Island for proper mental healthcare and can be incredibly effective if given the right attention.
There is scope for change on the Island, but it needs to be a massive societal change which will not only shift the public perception and education on mental health, but one which will push for greater funding and support for the medical services which are so important in treating the mental health issues that so many of us live with and fight against.
There is by no means a cure-all solution to it, but talking openly about our experiences, and shifting the mentality to a point where mental health is given the same weight as a physical ailment is a start.
If we could move to a point where our society provides the prevention and not just the cure, then that’s all the better.