The agenda with empty pages

I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.

Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.

One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?

But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.

Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you might not be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.

It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.

People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.

There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.

There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.

And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.

Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.

The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.

Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.

If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.

There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.

And that’s a society no one wants to live in.

The S between us

Even if normally I tend to write differently, this week’s article will be centered more on the story, as it feels so important to be shared, to gain a better understanding.

Not that long ago, a guy asked me if depression ever cures. I told him that, no, it doesn’t. Not in the same way a cold would. But there are remission periods that, in a best-case scenario supported by the right amounts of psychotherapy and medication, last for years. He told me that he asked me that particular question because he has met a woman. And she is depressed. Diagnosed by a professional, not by Dr. Google.

I’ve asked him what’s the thing about it, and he told me that he has second thoughts about dating her, now that he’s aware of the fact that depression is a lifetime-lasting condition. He told me that it sucks, but it didn’t really hit me until he said to me I won’t have a relationship with her based on my empathy for her condition, I want someone normal by my side.

And then, it hit me. It wasn’t about that woman, she surely is a wonderful person. It was about him, and the way he’s seeing the world. About the chameleon always around us called stigma.

To keep the definition short, any label that favors discrimination is a stigma. There’s stigma everywhere: attached by your professional status, relationship status, financial status, and, of course, medical status.

More often then not, we tend to overlook the stigma and its presence in our lives. I have this tendency myself. But, at that moment, I thought She is, probably, awesome. A real, imperfect, yet strong and inspiring woman. She certainly didn’t have it easy. But every single good thing about her will be undermined by the fact that she is not normal. And that’s a shameful thing, indeed.

Of course, there is a man’s right to choose his significant other as he feels. But rejecting someone based on diagnosis will never be an actual choice. It is, usually, a proof of lacking empathy. Labeling someone before you even get to have a coffee with that person, to actually know it, is stigma. A harmful behavior, as it often brings up feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. And even if we know that we hate feeling like that ourselves, truth is that things are even worse if you face a chronic illness.

As a chronic illness person, you constantly tend to try and see yourself through other people’s eyes. To understand what could make them stay around you despite your illness. It could be your charisma, your sense of style, your intelligence, determination, the fact that they feel safe and empowered around you… a lot of things, basically, that don’t depend on a diagnosis or the lack of it.

But what about those facing a mental condition? For them, every new day brings a new battle. Their illness affects their mood, determination, their personality as well in some cases. They tend to be unstable, not because they want to, but because that’s part of their illness. Even so, some of them are wonderful people. Caring, genuinely interested in other people, open to be known better, to know you better. Some of them are artists or volunteering for NGOs, trying to offer to other people the support they needed at some point in their lives. Some tend to focus on more practical stuff. They all are worth knowing better. Being seen as they are, respected, helped, cared for, loved. Just like any other human being.

Yet, some of them never get to experience this part of their lives, because of the judgmental people that use their diagnosis as a sentence. As an excuse for giving up in the very beginning. And if for some people facing another kind of medical issue this can be more bearable, for them is not. A person facing a mental health issue will meet rejection frequently, in every aspect of her life, but the thing is how that person is rejected.

Being rejected for not being the right person for the one you’re into, or for that one job you would’ve wanted so bad to get, is one thing, and it happens to all of us. But being rejected with the underlying message that it’s not you, it’s that thing… That’s hard to bear, as it cancels everything good about yourself. It tells you that nothing could make up for that. Where that isn’t something that you could, as an individual, be blamed for.

 If there’s something that could only be accomplished with constant education and documentation, that’s more likely a better understanding of how mental health issues are functioning like. Because they’re not just a phase. Won’t just pass either. They’re affecting that person’s brain, balance, and lifestyle. And no one wants to have that kind of life, where you’re constantly between highs and lows, without any grey area to breathe in.

Stigma is fueled by stereotypes and misunderstandings that became popular. That’s why reading and asking about sensitive topics, like mental health illnesses, is the only way of getting rid of it. And if you’re feeling ashamed to ask a professional, you can always ask a person that you know suffering from depression, or any other chronic condition. They will answer all of your concerns and misunderstanding, even sharing documentation resources with you.

Because, at the end of the day, there are a few things that will remain unchanged. Like the fact that the easy way won’t be fulfilling, and the fulfilling way won’t be easy. Also, it is worth questioning our beliefs every now and then, especially when they can have an impact over the vulnerable categories, like the disabled, the mental illness patients, the poor people, the sexual minorities, and see what harm could bring them our attachment to our toxic, outdated beliefs. Keep always in mind that ignorance is like a walnut’s shadow: nothing ever grows underneath. Especially not meaningful relationships with other people. So the next time when you tend to avoid someone because of a stigmatizing label, sit a little and ask yourself is it really worth it, a reason good enough for me not getting to know this person? and you’ll have a surprise. More often than not, the answer is no.