It’s also OK to not share

23rd May 2019
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#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek – p.s. It’s also OK to not share

In the interests of full disclosure, this start life as a rant. A full-on, expletive ridden rant. But, as I don’t want to add to the sum of negative energy in the world, I made myself have a little re-think, had a chat with a lovely, very smart friend and landed on a positive perspective.

Basically, all I’m saying is that it’s OK to share all your health experiences and it’s also OK to not share them.

Why are you saying this with sweary words?

My anger was sparked last week by an increasingly shared opinion that if you don’t share your mental ill health experiences with the whole world, then you are actively perpetuating the current negative stigma.

I don’t believe this. And it made me swear.

And I don’t think many people really do believe this.

Yet I’ve seen this, both stated clearly and rather passive aggressively implied. I am deliberately not including examples, links, names or screenshots. If you’ve come across it, what did you think as you read it? If you haven’t seen anything like this, good. I hope you don’t.

I also saw a number of posts that started with something along the lines of ‘I wasn’t going to post about this, but a friend told me I should because it might help someone else.’

It is another ‘should’ that none of us need. Another ‘if you’re not doing this, then it means that’. Another group pressure. This time, disguised as a supportive group dynamic.

I am not attacking Mental Health Awareness Week…

…obviously. I fully appreciate both the benefits and limitations of designated ‘Awareness Weeks/Months’. Aside from the huge need to get accurate facts about Mental Health into our collective knowledge bank, it does help people feel less alone.

In bold, How are you? I'm fine. In a softer font, all the real feelings.

Everyone can relate to the sense of relief that accompanies the realisation that you are not the only one – in any given situation.

Whether that be serious circumstances, like mental health, physical health or relationship matters.

Or the less important, like knowing you’re not the only one that uses pretzels and Pombears as Nutella spoons. (God, is that still just me?)

Illness of any kind is nothing to feel ashamed about. But if those around you are making you feel this way, then someone in the public eye coming out and saying they have the same thing as you can be hugely supportive.

All the good things about Mental Health Awareness Week must continue until we don’t need a designated ‘week’ because reasonable attitudes have become embedded in the majority of people.

It’s only part of a solution

It is also important to acknowledge that this is never going to happen if we think that one week of publicity a year is going to sort things out. Investing in a week long campaign is not the same as funding appropriate healthcare for those with poor mental health.

We must hold our politicians to proper account because, to be blunt, everything takes money.

 

Tweeted by Nish Kumar during Mental Health Awareness Week. Illustrating difference between what the government is doing and what it could do.

Why do we say people are brave for sharing the details of their mental ill health?

This is a key question. Every interview I’ve seen with someone in the public eye talking about their mental ill health is asked a variation of: ‘Weren’t you worried about sharing this with the world?’ The answer is always ‘yes’. They were worried about the impact of sharing their mental health details, not just on themselves, but also their family.

Why?

Because people can be dicks.

And because it is painful to revisit a painful thing.

But mainly because people can be fucking dicks.

People still don’t understand mental ill health as well as physical ill health – both as individuals and at community level. I’m past the point of caring whether or not this is down to plain ignorance, fear, or other any other reason.

The fact is that others will see your mental ill health from their perspective, not yours. And this could be:

  • a weakness to be taken advantage of
  • something to be scared of
  • ignore it and it’ll go away
  • apply a blanket of ‘you’ll be fine’ positivity
  • to make money from
  • a source of mockery (what they might call a ‘joke’)
  • burden on them
  • pity
  • as a trigger to previous experience of their own
  • something that cannot be recovered from

Add your own to this non exhaustive list.

Despite this potential nightmare, many people share their mental ill health experiences in order to empower others. Famous, or not, that is courageous.

 

Drawing of a woman inside a bubble with her positive thoughts. Others' inappropriate words surrounding her.

Sharing isn’t a cure

You know this already, I’m sure. But it would seem that many people seem to think that just the very action of ‘sharing’ a story of ill-health means that it is in some way cured. Sure, just have a chat over a coffee and cake and you’ll be grand.

Does this work for a broken bone? Cancer? Diabetes? Say it and it disappears?

Well, the same goes for mental illnesses. Only the usual range of healthcare options will help a patient with mental ill health:

  • professional expertise
  • hospital stay
  • drugs
  • appropriate other care options (counselling, therapy, whatever)

Having a support network of people that can help you through it, is just as important as with a physical illness or injury. But it is not a substitute.

Privacy is a thing

Not bloody ‘GPDR, protect your data online’ privacy. But actual personal privacy. It is really important that people are not railroaded into sharing their intimate health details by a well-intentioned movement.

This is important because your health information is highly personal and it is your decision who you decide to share it with.That’s why such a high value is placed on medical practitioners’ codes of ethics. You trust your doctor not to discuss your health with anyone else. Same goes for psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors that may help you recover from a bout of mental ill health.

The positive perspective I mentioned earlier

That is the positive thing here, though. You are in charge. It is your body, it is your health information, so you decide what to do with it.

Before telling anyone, or posting online, ask yourself the question – do I want to share this?

If the answer is yes, then probe a little deeper. Do you want to tell everyone, or just particular people? Are you worried about any aspect of sharing your mental ill health? Why? What might the impact be? Are you prepared for that?

Why do you want to tell people? Is it so they can support you and you know they’ll understand? Is it to get a bit of sympathy and attention? Is it because you feel you have to?

If you still want to share, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s also great.

You don’t owe anyone your personal experiences.

Sharing is a difficult thing to do because you suddenly need extra energy to both explain and deal with other’s reactions.

And remember that anything online cannot be guaranteed to stay where you put it. Do you want all your family, friends, colleagues, employer, random local shop assistant and neighbours to share your mental ill health journey? Because that’s who you’re including.

It’s not about being ashamed of anything. It’s just thinking through an action before you do it. Not automatically live streaming every experience and thought.

Keeping your mental ill health private does not mean:

  • you are letting anyone down
  • you are perpetuating the existing stigma
  • negatively impacting someone else’s health
  • refusing to be an ally to others in the same boat

I’m obviously old and grumpy enough to be at the stage where I will say “fuck off” to things that grind my gears (thank you Family Guy for that phrase!).

I’m also old enough to remember pre-internet days. I know that people can survive quite happily without being constantly connected to everyone else in the whole world.

I do worry that those born into the Age of the Internet don’t know that filtering isn’t just for photos. Other people are not entitled to every aspect of you.

To share, or not to share, the decision is yours.

Image credits

To my shame, I don’t know the creator of two of the images I’ve used in this article. If you know, please can you tell me so I can give them due credit.

Featured image: Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay Thank you.

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