Sunday 10th October is World Mental Health Day. Having in the past been a Trustee/Director of a mental health charity for over 20 years and currently being the patient representative on a multi-university mental health research project it is an issue dear to my heart. People prefer not to talk about it, and dark grim psychiatric hospitals (such as Fairfield once was) sum up how it has always been seen. Those with experience of any form of it are often scarred by it; all but the mildest forms are horrific to experience.
I reject the term 'mental illness'. We do not talk about physical illness, only types of physical illness. To lump all forms of mental disorder together in one to cover every condition from a mild phobia to paranoid schizophrenia (to name but the obvious) is ludicrous. Like physical illnesses every form of mental illness needs a different type of treatment, a different type of drug, a different type of analysis, a different type of therapy.
Furthermore, the very term 'mental illness' has overtones of stigma and being belittled. We have come a long way since I became interested (and involved) in this field. More treatments have become available, more research is being done, the stigma is being eased, society is becoming more tolerant and compassionate. But we still have a very very long way to go. People are still being stigmatised, belittled, even penalised. To me the belittling of those with conditions of the mind is inappropriate to a society in which all form of discrimination is rightly abhorrent.
It seems at times that we have drawn an arbitrary line just above the human eyebrows. To suffer from a condition below that line is acceptable and evokes sympathy; to suffer from one above it is to evoke scorn and even revulsion. Yet every kind of illness demands and deserves equal sympathy and care. Depression and diabetes - schizophrenia and sciatica are equally valid conditions and must be seen as such. To meet someone with a mental illness may make us feel vulnerable, aware of our inability to be in control - and nobody likes that. On the other hand it's scarcely a bag of laughs to have such a condition because (at least with some conditions) one does not lose total touch with reality. One gets torn between reality and unreality, knowing that the latter is winning.
10th October is a day for focussing our thoughts on this issue, and it is one that society (including the Church) must take more seriously. Christ performed many acts of healing the mind as He did of healing the body. We must work together for greater de-stigmatising of 'illnesses above the eyebrows', and for more compassion for those who have them. We are on a long road towards lifting this darkness. As Christians we owe it to God and to our fellow men (who are after all children of God) to do so. If we do not believe, we owe it to society to try and make mankind more civilised.
Very best wishes, Paul