World Mental Health Day 2015 – Dignity Or Do I Have To Beg?

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Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October

World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.

What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.

The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define.  What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;

“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”

What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:

“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”

That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.

Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.

 You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.

These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking.  Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.

I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.

I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.

To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.

Here’s my point:

There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.

My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.

I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.

But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.

Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?

Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?

I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox

World Mental Health Day 2013 (Kiwi Time)

Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day.  Yes, I accept that for some of you I am a day early. That thing called time zones always has me a day ahead of everything, but maybe that just means we can have two World Mental Health Day’s.  What do you think?  Twice the coverage?  It would have to be good.

My first task on this day was to go look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) have set for the theme of the year.  This year’s theme is the elderly and mental health.  Personally I think this is a great theme, not simply because we are all getting older, but because I have an 85 year mother for who I have some responsibility to help as she copes with what old age throws at her.  Old age ain’t pretty (and I’m not talking looks) but it’s actually not what I have on my heart today, so I’m deviating from the theme.  Apparently that’s allowed.

I am worried about what is happening about the mental health needs of those on our planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live in first world countries.  From where I’m looking it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of support for people with mental illnesses in the third world, and perhaps war-torn countries, let alone for those who are simply trying to maintain a good level of mental health.

Look at the globe depicted in the hand in the image above, and that says a lot to me.  Because it seems that all the world’s focus is on the countries who actually probably have the resources to handle their needs, if they just managed them properly.  But where are the poorer, less resourced countries?  They are the ones that need to be targeted.

I like the focus there is on veteran mental health, and the need identified for post traumatic stress support and treatment for those who have served in war zones.  But what about the people who live in those lands as their home?  What are we doing to treat their post traumatic stress?  They experience trauma too.

A few weeks back there was a major (7.7 magnitude earthquake in Balochistan, Pakistan).  Having lived through a number of catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I admit my ears prick up when I hear there has been another major quake somewhere in the world.  While this doesn’t directly relate to World Mental Health Day, what struck me then was the scant media coverage of the tragedy.  For some reason the people of Pakistan suffering and being killed was of seeming little importance to the world media, and so it sadly becomes of little importance to the world.

And that’s where I get back to World Mental Health Day.  When world media decide for themselves what they class as important, people miss out on the aid and treatment they need.  The survivors of that quake will be in all sorts of need for mental health support right now, but what’s the bet that half of us didn’t even know it happened?

What else matters to me?  I’ve been thinking about the situation in Russia with the open abuse and restrictions on those people who identify with LGBTQ.  I wonder if you are a transexual, Russian woman how you access good and safe psychiatric care for your Bipolar Disorder?  The gay, Russian man with suicidal depression?  I’m wondering whether they are of any priority to the people and services who have the skills and resources to treat these people?  They need and deserve the same standard of care as the heterosexuals in that country.

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I damn well hope someone does.  I hope someone has these peoples needs on their priority lists.

World Mental Health Day is a wonderful tool if we use it to ensure that mental health services stretch right around the globe.  If World Mental Health Day is just for the first world countries then I think we are all letting down our fellow human beings.  We are one planet and we are all worthy of quality mental health.

“I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy” 

― Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American

Loose Ends At The Start of Mental Health Awareness Week

For some weeks now I have had it firmly in my mind that 10 October is World Mental Health Day.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) website it is 10 October (Wednesday), but for some reason I had stuck in my head that it was Tuesday (today).  A bit of searching, and I’ve found that in some places World Mental Health Day is being marked on 9 October (today).  No wonder I’m confused.  You’d think that if we were going to have a World Day we’d make sure we all did it on the same day.  But then maybe that would be too logical.

I did more searching and confirmed that here in New Zealand the occasion is definitely Wednesday, and so what I was going to post today will wait for tomorrow.  In New Zealand, it is also Mental Health Awareness Week all week so I am going to try to acknowledge that in my posts this week.

The topic of World Mental Health Day was chosen by WHO as ‘Depression: A Global Crisis’.  I like this topic because Depression has become such a wide-spread problem around the world and I believe it needs talking about.

Some months ago (Mental Health versus Mental Illness… a Stigma Issue?) I wrote about some questions being raised by people about this chosen topic, on the basis that they felt Depression was too much of a negative topic.  I still think this is a shame.  Depression has a huge impact on people’s mental health and so needs to be addressed openly.

Interestingly in New Zealand, there is a lot of work done to raise the issue of Depression, with Depression. org and The Lowdown (aimed at young people) leading the way.  I really like what I’ve seen of these programmes, and are helping to spread the awareness that Depression can affect everyone.  That said, the NZ Mental Health Foundation  here, is promoting the subject of mindfulness this week, rather than Depression.  Mindfulness is certainly something that everyone, whether or not the have a mental illness, could benefit from in terms of their mental health but there is a part of me that wishes they had addressed the issue of Depression as well.  Maybe that’s just my bias.

Only in this past week, I learnt more about the growing battle between the use of the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’.  Some people don’t want to focus on mental illness, because it’s negative like I said earlier; but then there are others who find the use of the term ‘mental health’ an insult.  Apparently the term ‘mental health’ is stigmatizing, because it  ignores that mental illness exists.

I think I’m getting a headache!

Where do I stand on this?  I will fight against anything that adds to the stigma of mental illness, but personally I believe there is a place for both terms.  I have a mental illness which I am completely open about.  I am not going to run from the term ‘mental illness’ because it is factual and is my reality.  It is no different from the physical illnesses that are my reality.

That said, I think for me it is still possible for me to achieve mental health in spite of my mental illness.  It might sound a bit weird, but if I can manage my symptoms and function well while still having the mental illness, I call that mental health for me.  So I’m inclined to say that there is definitely room for both terms.

Dare I say it, but I think those on the side of wanting to refer to everything as ‘mental health’ are being unrealistic.  Mental illness does exist and we can’t, or shouldn’t hide from it.  But those who want to ignore the existence of ‘mental health’ are perhaps being a little precious.  Again, mental health exists and is something we can all work towards in our own ways.

Here’s an idea.  Let’s stop fussing over which term is used and get on with working on reducing and managing mental illness where possible, so that mental health can be experienced by as many people as possible.  If we argue of the terminology too much we run the risk of ignoring the real problems.

PS.  If I offended anyone with this post… I guess I’m getting used to that.  This is simply my opinion, neither right nor wrong.

It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.” 

―    Sam Harris,   The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

Mental Health versus Mental Illness… a Stigma Issue?

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1212mentalhealth-RW (Photo credit: Robbie Wroblewski)

I was minding my own business, like you do, as I perused my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago, when I came across something I didn’t like.  I fought with myself.  Was this going to be one of those things that I would fight back on, convinced the writer needed my opinion?  Or would I let it slide?Actually I did a bit of both.  To start with, I couldn’t help myself and had to put my two cents worth in, but when I got heated responses I decided I was best to opt out and leave them to their own rather firm opinions.  It’s always so hard to know, do I fight or not?

The issue was the announcement of the theme of the World Mental Health Day 2012 (in October), as ‘Depression – A Global Crisis’.

I had no problem with the topic, actually I think it’s great that a mental illness gets the focus.  The difficulty I had was the comments of people complaining that this was far too negative a topic and it was time that the event focussed on health rather than illness.

Interestingly the topics of the past few years have been:

  • The Great Push:  Investing in Mental Health (2011)
  • Mental Health and Chronic Physical Illnesses (2010)
  • Mental Health in Primary Care (2009)

I should say that I was particularly interested in this announcement because I had recently found out that this event in October is the reason why New Zealand, Australia and perhaps other countries have not recognised the May ‘Mental Health Awareness Month’ currently going on in many countries.  I was told, rather tersely when I enquired about New Zealand’s involvment in the May activities, that May has nothing to do with mental health.  There clearly seems to be some tension in the air over these two events, although I won’t get side-tracked onto that.

Rather, people are claiming that a topic like Depression has no place in a Mental Health event.  This is bizarre!  So what is mental health?  The World Health Organisation tells us that mental health is defined as:

“as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO’s definition of health as contained in its constitution: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (1.)

I can’t argue with this but I notice that there is actually no acknowledgement of mental illness.  They say mental health is a state of well-being and not just the absence of illness.  I can accept that but wonder why there isn’t more focus on mental illness.  And what is so wrong with using a specific mental illness as the focus of a mental health event?  It almost seemed that the people I chose not to argue with didn’t want to acknowledge that mental illness exists.  And if this isn’t a case of stigma doing it’s damnedest I’m really not  sure what is.

Put all of this argument (that didn’t really happen) aside and it makes me wonder what I mean when I talk about mental health here.  In most cases what I am really talking about is an absence of mental health, or mental illness.  It seems from what I stumbled on that ‘Mental Health’ and ‘Mental Illness’ are perhaps two sides that don’t want to meet.

This all seems like such a shame.  If we want to remove the stigma attached to mental illness I fear we will never achieve this when the very people charged with promoting the healthy answer do not want to know.  No doubt they might protest but I really don’t see why mental illness can not be part of mental health.  I am convinced it is possible for me to live with my mental illness, yet have a firm hold on my mental health.

Right now it is not my mental illness that is preventing me from particpating fully in a healthy life.  If it weren’t for my physical illness (Fibromyalgia), my Borderline Personality Disorder would not be holding me back.  Sure it makes some things difficult but I don’t accept that I don’t have mental health.

What do you think?  Am I away with the fairies on this one?  Or is there are problem when people don’t want to acknowledge the existence of a mental illness when discussing mental health?

“Our society tends to regard as a sickness any mode of thought
or behaviour that is inconvenient for the system and this is
plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it
causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system.
Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is
seen as a cure for a sickness and therefore as good.”

―    Theodore Kaczynski
  • Normal (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
  • Stigma (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
  • Half of Us (psychsplash.com)