I was pleased to read Joyce Fegan’s article about mental health, ‘When it comes to mental health, why are we so dishonest about it?’ (Irish Examiner, October 5).
As Monday marked the beginning of Mental Health Week, I thought I might make a contribution.
I was delighted that, in her article, she never used once the word stigma — this is quite a record that she should be proud of. The word ‘stigma’ drives me crackers (oops ... but a sense of humour helps). I have to use that word myself in order to correct it and explain why ‘stigma’ offends.
First of all, I do not recognise stigma today because it belongs to the dim and distant past. The reason for its
origin is that patients were locked up because way back then the medical profession did not know how to deal with mental health.
They were treated as if in jail, and of course nobody wanted to talk about it. I don’t want to hear that bloody word again, and I would advise the medical profession not to ever use it. It has no place in modern Ireland of 2019.
I have often spoken of my own mental health issues. It has a name, OCD for short (obsessive-compulsive disorder). In France, they would call it the doubting disease, which I think is very apt because it describes how it works. Repetition is very prominent in OCD, as in checking, checking, and checking again. I heard of a woman whose obsession was checking that the gas was off before going upstairs to bed.
She would go to bed but would come down time and again and this could go on for hours, you would think she was just forgetful, but OCD is much worse than that. If I was asked to explain this behaviour, I would say it was the lack of retention, ie, the fact that she checked the gas was gone from her mind by the time she reached upstairs. But OCD can take several different forms.
Joyce Fegan asks why are people so dishonest about mental health. It is because it is a difficult subject for the teller and the listener.
From my own experience, I knew a lot of people would know, but never refer to it. I have never suffered from going public, but by not asking it just means they accept it as normal for me, and that’s OK too.
To anyone with mental health issues, I would recommend mindfulness. This means to live in the here and now. People spoil the present by thinking about something in the future that might never happen.
If any of the above is relevant to you or a friend, the first step is to contact your GP who in turn will refer you to someone that specialises in mental health, and then you are under doctor’s care.
Do not suffer in silence — it is good to talk.
- This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 11 October 2019.