When you think of mental illness, what comes to mind? For this week’s blog post an anonymous writer explores invisible mental health problems, and why we aren’t talking about them.
Just to note: this post talks about childhood trauma. Not in explicit detail, but rather the long term effects.
I’m pretty sure most people with some form of mental health problem have heard of Time to Talk, part of the work of Time to Change. The idea is that the more people who experience mental illness talk about their condition, the more society as a whole can begin to understand and the less stigma there will be around mental illness. So far, so good.
But what if you don’t have one of the more mainstream mental health problems? Most of the talking done about mental illness involves depression and/or anxiety – the socially acceptable face of mental illness (though this doesn’t negate their value, of course). Let’s unpack that a little bit.
I have a mental illness which is a result of prolonged, sustained and extreme childhood trauma. And when I say trauma, I actually mean abuse. There are a myriad of diagnoses that are caused by experiencing abuse and neglect in childhood, and it is much less socially acceptable to talk about this kind of mental illness because people simply don’t know how to respond.
Society isn’t prepared to accept that child abuse is widespread and the impact can last a lifetime. It makes people uncomfortable when someone like me – a white woman from a respectable, upper middle class, churchgoing, law abiding family – says their mental illness was caused by childhood trauma. It is something I’ve heard time and again, both personally and anecdotally from others, said by lay people and professionals – “but you come from such a nice family.” They look at me and see themselves, their own friends and neighbours, families they know. And the idea that any one of them could be abusing and neglecting a child is beyond their comprehension.
So when it’s “Time to Talk”, what is really meant is that it’s time to discuss the palatable aspects of mental health, while brushing the unpalatable under the nearest rug. The kind of childhood trauma I experienced belongs in a different society, somehow. In a world of paedophile celebrities or grooming gangs or trafficking or whatever you can read in the tabloids. It doesn’t belong in leafy suburbia with respectable families.
There is no place for my story when it’s time to talk, and it is the same for many if not all victims of child abuse. We are excluded not just because society does not want to acknowledge or accept childhood trauma, but because we are the unacceptable face of mental illness. The sort that can’t be cured by medication. The sort that, at its extremes, means we struggle to function on a daily basis. The sort that cannot be easily understood.
There are many of us, with a whole range of diagnoses, who are unable to talk – silenced by years of abuse, silenced by fear, silenced by society. And still the clarion call to talk about mental health. Except nobody wants to listen to the voices and experiences of those who experienced childhood trauma. Because it isn’t something to discuss. Tackling stigma is all well and good, so is talking. But by virtue of only talking about the socially acceptable face of mental illness an awful lot of people are being excluded.
Should you have experienced anything similar to that mentioned in this blog post there are people you can talk to. Find out more on our Talking and Support page.
Freedom of Mind Festival 2016 is nearly here! We’re kicking the whole thing off with a launch party at the O2 Academy on the 30th September, followed by a whole load of events including panel discussions on men’s mental health, a book signing with Nathan Filer, comedy night, spoken word night and loads more. We’ll be posting updates in the Facebook event for the whole festival here.