The buzzword in politics at the moment, or at least one of them, seems to be mental health. Mental health must be treated as just as important as physical health, say the Lib Dems, we are all victims of mental health problems say Labour and the stigma of mental health must be removed say the Conservatives. It is welcome that, this week, the Conservative government have pledged to increase funding for mental health services, even though the combined effect of government measures over the last six years on people with mental health issues is somewhat less than perfect. Terrible even.
Still, this is a good time if you, like me, suffer from mental health conditions which you previously felt were bars to a social and professional life. Unfortunately, the huge expansion in understanding of mental health issues has led to the emergence of a counterproductive and deeply problematic movement against the use of medication. These are people who see mental health issues as natural and see medicating as an attempt to destroy the uniqueness of people suffering from mental health conditions. Presumably this is because all of their information on mental health conditions comes from watching House and Rain Man.
It’s all very well to complain of people being drugged up by big pharma to undermine their unique and brilliant minds
Let me be frank. I suffer from bipolar depression (type 2), borderline personality disorder, bulimia and a form of body dysmorphia which is somewhat separate from the gender dysphoria I experience. It’s all very well to complain of people being drugged up by big pharma to undermine their unique and brilliant minds, but if I didn’t take my medication I would experience life like a cocaine addiction: manic, over-productive, unstable highs followed by crushing life-inhibiting lows. I know this, because I recently bought into the anti-meds rhetoric and came off of my meds. The place I went to is somewhere I never wish to return to.
You may as well tell me that I can overcome a broken bone through colouring books.
We must not make social policy without really understanding what we are talking about and we certainly should not undermine mental illness by speaking about it so flippantly. Being fussy is not the same as OCD, I don’t want society to medicate fussiness away but, as someone with an OCD-sufferer in my life, I do want to medicate the effects of OCD. I often think if people in the anti-meds movement could see someone they loved exhaustedly walking in and out of their room because they could not go to sleep without walking through their door frame the correct number of times. Then they might understand that mental illness are not unique quirks or personality types incompatible with neoliberal capitalism, but life-inhibiting afflictions that must be taken as such.
Don’t tell me to get off of my meds and learn to deal with my mental health issues through self-belief and hope. You may as well tell me that I can overcome a broken bone through colouring books. Let’s not buy into our own egos and let’s understand that the brain is an organ that can be damaged. That way we can fight the stigma of mental health by pointing to someone with a broken leg and asking if they should be considered unreliable or trouble-making, rather than fighting it by essentialising our illnesses and their effects.