I was very moved by this piece written by a friend of mine Dr Malcolm Harvey about his struggle with depression. As well as the real bravery of standing up and being deeply honest about his daily struggle, Malcolm’s comment about him to be “seemingly successful” and so, an unlikely candidate for depression shed an important light on the problem of dealing with mental health, particularly for men. Not only is the prevailing view that depression is a sign of weakness about which we should be ashamed, the assumption is that it’s a sign of failure as defined by a narrative which places material wealth and social status as the source of meaning and purpose we all seek. The truth is they can help but they cannot be the source of our sense of self, of whether we feel we are loved, loveable and that our love will be received by others.
I have written previously about my own experience of depression and crisis of confidence. It took me a long time to realise the slow constant nagging sense of not ever feeling I was being really true to myself which I sensed every day was a sign and a symptom of depression. It was dragging me down, affecting my capacity to both make the simplest of decisions and being the driver for making some very unwise ones. Finally, triggered by a couple of moments which scared me, I asked for help.
I found the counselling service at Simpson House and they helped me simply talk through what I was feeling, untying the knots in my soul and the fears in my head. It took three years with a break in between the first two and the third. It took energy and time, and in particular to learn the difference between self-reflection and introspection. It was not easy but had I not travelled that road, life now would be very difficult.
Cyrenians philosophy of transformation through values led relationships means we try to see past the reason we first find ourselves on a journey with someone and create a space for the deeper, systemic reasons to be explored. Time and time again we find the root of someone’s financial or relationship vulnerability, their addiction, their loss of a home, their inability to find work or the many other initial reasons we have begun a journey with them is connected in some way to their mental health. That is why we say the journey from exclusion to inclusion is an inner journey.
Mental Health Awareness Week has taken a new angle this year; instead of asking why so many people are living with mental health problems, they are asking why so few of us are thriving with good mental health. It is a crucial question. I believe part of the answer lies in challenging our continued unwillingness to see mental health as something we should be free and encouraged to talk about. It also requires us to understand that what feels like weakness is not something to be ashamed of – it is our mind telling us something, telling us to pay attention in the same way our nerve endings use pain to tell us our leg is broken. We need more spaces to talk, more speaking up by surprising people, more honesty, more authenticity like Malcolm’s to reshape the way we all see what in truth could be our experience when we least expect it.
11 May 2017