The below entry is written by Shaun Ellis, author of the blog Turning Corners. Turning Corners is a mental health blog focussing on living with anxiety and depression.
Imagine the scene. A young adult on crutches staggers into a department store. It's clear for all to see that he’s struggling and getting around the store is going to be a challenge. The majority of people will show empathy and kindness to him, if given the opportunity they might even offer him support. The staff are more likely to bend over backwards to help and make his shopping experience as comfortable as possible.
Now it’s possible I’m being a tad naïve in this case but I do have experience of pushing people around shops in wheelchairs. Suddenly you find people queuing up to be helpful, opening doors, moving objects out of the way, even offering to carry your shopping for you! You’re given all the time and space you need.
Getting around a department store would be extremely daunting for me and likely be even more challenging than for the person on crutches. My mental health condition is equally restrictive but unlike the people with physical ailments, my condition goes unrecognised.
On first appearance, I seem to be in perfectly good health and able to cope. In a busy environment people are not likely to give me space, even though I desperately need it. My anxiety levels, sometimes make leaving the house an impossibility. Though people are becoming more educated and perceptions are changing for the better, it’s still hard for them to understand what they can’t see, so sadly there is no immediate solution.
Maybe it’s time we started challenging the way things have always been. If we lived in a world where we felt comfortable enough to talk openly about our mental health. In such a world, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone with anxiety issues to phone up a venue, prior to their visit, to request some help. This could result in a member of staff meeting you at the front of a shop and escorting you around or even meeting you at the entrance to the train station and taking you exactly where you need to go.
The possibilities are endless if you just have the confidence to ask for help in the first place. I know I have no right to preach to you when I haven’t even tried this myself yet, but it’s certainly an option I’m going to explore in the future.
Don't be afraid to ask for help, you have as much right to it as anyone else and you might be surprised by the response you get.
What can society do?
Media and television have a huge influence over how people view mental health. Now, before I get on my band wagon, it’s not all bad! There's plenty of expert phone ins on day time tele, which are informative and offer good advice and links to support groups. There's actors who portray mental health very accurately in some of the soaps and dramas. In Coronation street, I thought Steve Mcdonald's story of living with depression was a particularly good one and in Emmerdale Ashley's dementia storyline was extremely well written. Both of which brought much needed awareness to the public. But as well as this, on the same programmes you get so many of the derogatory terms used when referring to someone with a mental health condition.
I have heard lots of derogatory terms used flippantly in the last couple of weeks and there normally said in a humorous manner, not intended as an insult! Fair enough, I can take a joke as much as the next person, but you wouldn't expect a joke to be made about someone with cancer or a brain tumor would you? So why accept it with mental health? And why should we be so surprised that people have trouble opening up when this is how they're perceived?
Then you get the news stories, sometimes including violent attacks by someone with a mental health condition. Of course, not everyone with a mental health condition is violent, most of us know this, I hope! But what about the younger audience, what must they think?
I think the media need to include more positive stories relating to mental health and I strongly believe that at school, just as much emphasis should be put on the subject as is already put on physical education. If we can get people talking about it from a young age then hopefully perceptions will change and more people will get the help they need.