Sunday, October 21, 2012
Making Sense of Mental Health; It’s Not ‘Black or White’
Wherever you are right now, take a good look at the people around you. Or, if you’re by yourself, imagine being in a supermarket, a cinema, on a bus, walking through a shopping mall, or even at work. Do a visual tour of those in your immediate vicinity. Got it? Good.
Now consider this: virtually nobody that you’ve just seen is in absolutely perfect mental health.
People tend to think in polarities. Black...and white. On...or off. Rich...or not.
This tends to be the case with mental health, too. Someone has ‘mental illness’...and then there’s someone else, ‘normal’, with ‘not-mental illness’. In other words, there’s ‘Them’...and then there’s ‘Us’.
But the truth is actually quite different. And quite sobering.
I bring this up mostly because of the current ‘t-shirt’ campaign in support of the eight patients/clients of Charlton House who are being denied the opportunity to move to 121 Augusta by City Council. The campaign is called ‘S O S Stomp Out The Stigma’.
Even in the phrasing, and the discussions that have surrounded the effort, there is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ paradigm going on. “Help (Us) stomp out the stigma attached to mental illness (Them).” It’s a paradigm potentially more injurious than ‘Us vs Them’, the bane of local governance, because it's based on a real dearth of understanding.
Going back to my initial thought, there is an acknowledged mental health continuum. On which all of us sit. At various points long that continuum, with our location changing all the time. I present it here:
At the one end, ‘Healthy’, with all its familiar attributes. At the other end, including the potential indicators listed under ‘Illness’, are the committed, the institutionalized, those in care. (Even here, there’s a continuum.)
Precisely speaking, everyone possesses varying degrees of mental health. In the same way that everyone possesses varying degrees of physical health. And again, as organic, adaptive creatures, aspects of health are always in flux, always changing. One of the many wonders of being human.
In fact, I’d venture to bet that the number of people who are in no way ‘afflicted’ with the equivalents of ‘sprains’ or ‘bruises’ or temporary ‘headaches’ mental health-wise is infinitesimally small; you may well only have met a handful in your entire life.
Indeed, most people ‘out there in the world’ would sit to the right of ‘Healthy’. Meaning that almost everyone you come in contact with at any given moment is in fact, dealing with an aspect of ‘mental illness’, no matter how small. So chances are that the average person would be surprised to learn how many of their co-workers, fellow transit users, supermarket shoppers, neighbours are coping with ‘mental illness travails’.
Taking it one step further, probably the one aspect of this conversation that receives the shortest of short shrifts is not the issue of how to best –and humanely– accommodate those in need of care in our communities, but the fact that so many amongst us actually require attention in this sense, but either aren’t aware of the need, or simply cannot or will not pursue help.
With this in mind, I can’t help but see a certain irony in the t-shirt attempt to embrace ‘Them’, who have supposedly been ostracized or marginalized in this particular Lynwood-Charlton case.
Because in truth, given what I’ve just presented, nearly the entirety of ‘Us’ is in fact, ‘Them’.
Kinda puts a different spin on things, doncha think...?