Having “outed” myself very publicly in the workplace, and openly discussed my mental health condition, it felt like a really huge, and uncomfortable step – but one I did not regret. I realised that unlike many other aspects that may mark someone out as “different”, mental health has a certain stigma still attached to it. This is evident not least of all in the way we talk about it, and the way society reacts to it. If a friend or colleague wore glasses, it’s most unlikely that people would consider this an “issue.” For someone who has shorter than average legs, people would not consider this to be an “issue” that restricted their ability. Because physical issues are more likely to be visible, humanity has grown accustomed to them – they are tolerated, even accepted by society.
But differences in mental health have long been treated with suspicion, and something to be feared. Even in recent decades, western society continued to stigmatise mental health “issues” as deviant, abnormal and shameful, locking away those who were seen to exhibit symptoms, exacerbating whatever condition that person might have had. In fact, my own irrational fear, when I confided in a friend that I felt depressed, was that the men in white coats would turn up, and whisk me away.
But when it comes down to it, the picture is not quite so black and white. Is it an “issue” when someone responds in a stronger way than you do? In a similar way, those of us who face anxiety and depression are more likely to feel a greater degree of emotion – be that happiness or sadness. It\’s not that different to anyone else, but it can be more extreme. Of course, for some, it is much more serious, and medical intervention is needed to keep the individual or those around them safe. But for most, as they work through their condition, understanding and empathy would make a huge difference.
This makes me realise, that mental health is more like a spectrum – you might fall at a certain point on that spectrum at a certain time in your life. Events, experiences, your genes and those around can influence where you are on the spectrum – and sometimes you end up at a more extreme end of that spectrum. In some ways, my passion for the best possible customer experiences may well be thanks to my mental health – I get so excited when I think about an exceptional experience, and feel deep despair when I see stagnant customer experiences delivered by traditional industry.
Whilst it’s not good for me that sometimes, my emotions are stronger than I would like, since my diagnosis of depression and anxiety, I have been referring to my “mental health issues.” Because my mental health is “an issue.” It was only during a frank conversation with a colleague that I realised that whilst it’s important to have positive and healthy mental health, it’s really rather destructive and detrimental to talk about those with sub-optimal mental health as having issues. Instead, talking about our mental health “condition” or simply our mental health feel a whole less judgemental – and more likely to allow an individual to feel supported rather than judged. It’s up to each of us how we describe ourselves, and how we feel, but I for one will no longer be talking about my mental health “issues”. What about you?