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Sympathy and Mental Illness
Posted by Rosiebrownfightingstigma
24th Feb 2014

Hello SANE readers.

Today I thought I'd share with you some of my thoughts and feelings about sympathy and mental illness.

A very good friend of mine suggested that it is futile to try and compare different types of suffering. I agree. Therefore, it is pointless to try and do so. I am not purporting that someone with cancer/ diabetes / a broken bone / any other illness/ desease / medical problem should recieve more or less sympathy than someone with a mental illness. Someone with a broken leg and someone with a broken brain are each experiencing something unique to them, and thus how can a fair comparrison be made? But I want to suggests that people's reactions are often very different.

I want to plainly state that someone with a mental illness should be taken seriously and sympathised with where appropriate. It isn't about saying, 'Oh pity me because I have a mental illness'. It is about challenging opinions such as, 'Depression is self-infliced', and 'Surely you can just pull yourself together'. Telling someone with depression to 'snap out of it' is a big no no.

Some in today's media would go as far as to say that depression is 'trendy'. See for example Janet Street Porter's Article 'Depression? It's just the new trendy illness!' written for the Daily Mail and the 'Depression' T-shirt by Urban Outfitters.

A widely held opinion is that people with depression can just 'pull themselves together', or that they just aren't trying hard enough to get better, or that they think they are cool/ edgy or current by having depression.

I recently expressed my worries about going into a hospital to my old English teacher from school, who is now a very good friend of mine. She said: "Don't worry about going into hospital if that's what they think is best. You wouldn't worry about going in for a severe sprain or broken limb, so why for a poorly brain? Same same. " I think this is a fantastic piece of advice, advice which a lot more people should follow. Unfortunately depression comes with a package. It comes with a sense of shame and embarrassment. You can't show your friends your lump, or your scar or your leg in a cast. All they have is your word and this is terrifying. Thoughts such as 'will they believe me?' and 'will they understand me?' run round your brain like little mice. The shame of having something invisible is huge. Whenever I tell somebody I have a mental illness negative voices pop into my head straight away. Would this be the same if I was telling them I was going into hospital for a knee operation? Probably not (I know I said I wouldn't make comparrisons, but I am not comparing someone's pain, I am comparing people's reactions). If you had diabetes,or a broken arm or heart problem you wouldn't be embarrassed about telling your friends, would you? (Unless of course said heart problem was caused by an over-consumption of pizza and chocolate, in which case a small amount of embarrassment might be understandable.) Why is it that every other organ in the body can get sick and you get sympathy, but when it comes to the brain you are often met with unhelpful comments such as 'pull yourself together' and are usually filled with a sense of dread and shame.

Mental Illness is REAL. It isn't made up. I think the best way to get this message across is talking about it. When you realise somebody else has gone through exactly the same thing as you, you are less inclined to think you made it all up. Thinking that your mental illness is all in your head and not real is hugely damaging and can hinder recovery. It is certainly a thought that has passed through my head many times. 'Am I just making this up?', 'If I tried really hard will it just go away?' etc. However the more I read about mental illness and the more I have been talking to fellow sufferers the more I am appreciating that this is a real illness. An illness which deserves people's time and consideration.

SANE does fantastic work by promoting awareness and providing a forum for people to talk about their problems and share their experiences. I have certainly enjoyed reading other people's blogs and I hope you can take something from this blog.

Thanks for reading.

Remember to follow me on twitter @fighitng_stigma and go to my blog http://www.rosiebrownfightingstigma.wordpress.com - where I post regularly about mental health issues.

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