What has become clear to me is the scale of the crisis that I think we are now facing. Some time ago I wrote a series of pieces called Future Shocks which may or may not merit revisiting now that we are a decade or more along the line. What I could not have foreseen was the nature of the last 12 months, however I was aware of the trend towards a world where the increasingly isolationist nature of our lives was going to have an impact on our mental health. My mistake perhaps or naivety was the belief that with the rise in disclosures and discussion of mental health which had been taking place so the effects would become clearer at least in some quarters there would be moves to alleviate the damage. Covid-19 has robbed us of so much collaborative working, rendered so many people dead, ill, damaged, shellshocked and in crisis such that it is impossible to quantify the human cost and the likely impact on our species because it cannot be measured merely in the figures of the dead, there is scarcely a person anywhere that will not have been affected by it all in some way. My greatest concern is how long some of those things will take to manifest and come out into an arena where it can be identified and the individual, hopefully, helped through it and whether or not our society has the capacity to care as much and for as long as is going to be necessary.

‘Coming out’ with a condition or general mental ill-health is no easy task. There remains a stigma in many arenas to the idea, such as there is for many of the equality strands still. The lack of understanding coupled with the nature of the world in which we live makes people fearful declaring anything that demonstrates such a personal sense of vulnerability and giving what they may reasonably see as ammunition to other people in whom they may have little reason to trust. I have spent a great deal of time working in environments supporting people with mental health conditions and trying to navigate the line between when to declare it and when not, sure the legal protections are there if the condition qualifies and is officially declared, but these protections only come in against behaviour that constitutes a ‘due detriment’ in UK law, I would be interested how it is elsewhere. Due detriment means that there has to be a definable method of determining exactly what the person has suffered as apart from those who do not have the condition so as to claim the treatment was less favourable. In most circumstances this means action such as dismissal, however those with mental health conditions in work know just how fragile that situation can be and therefore are likely to be disinclined brazenly going down the line to dismissal with the intent of taking their employer to court. They are more likely to just try to keep their head down until they feel better because to tackle something like this when you are already feeling less than 100% does not sound like a good idea to many people and thereby the discriminatory behaviour against them manifests and entrenches and the circle continues.

I’m not saying things haven’t improved in certain areas, they have, there is more knowledge, more research, more legal protection than there ever has been and yet one could say the same about race relations and I hardly think anyone would consider that fight for equality anywhere near complete. The difference is that when your characteristic is hidden and you feel that your environment is not embracing of ‘your kind’ you face a choice as to whether to come out of the woodwork and assert your rights but risk persecution or to stay beneath the surface at a point in time you feel perhaps the most weak anyway. It’s a bold choice to take the former route. It is worth noting that whilst many strides in equality have been made until 2013 the Mental Health Act still prevented people who had been sectioned due to their mental health from officially being able to be School Governors, sit on a jury, be certain types of company director or be a sitting MP. This was in spite of the widely circulated figure that 1 in 4 people would suffer from an episode of Mental ill-health each year, yes not merely in their lives, every year, imagine that as a part of the population, it would be like the whole of London, Birmingham and Manchester getting the plague and the government decided to ignore it or determining that former plague victims no longer had rights. Yes this may sound flippant but there is sometimes no more evidence that someone will have a relapse of mental ill-health than there would be of them contracting the Black Death again!

For me it was ‘easier’ this time round, by which I mean I had no choice, the manifestation of the impact on my mental health was swift and left me incapable of work for some time. Similar to how I see the world in general that process had in some ways been a long time coming in me, in as much as there was a combination of factors at play, but also symptomatic of many in the world I had for some time been coasting and just about getting by, depending on your method of measuring these things. Often if left to get on with things you can cope for a long time and maybe even return to dealing with things better than that, especially if other factors recede. However if matters continue to pile up then at some point there is going to be an explosion of some kind. I had been open before about mental health, but not always with my employer or work colleagues and that speaks volumes because I am no shrinking violet and will seldom shirk that kind of fight but that workplace environment is one from which there can feel like little escape. On this particular occasion though what precipitated my crisis was not of my own making and therefore the consequent absence needed to be explained.

Being back at the mental health coal face means I get to see first hand what is going on, what facilities are made available, how quickly to people respond and what methods are offered in order to help. Of course there is an element here that is entirely subjective, there will always be much of that because as I have elaborated on before the whole issue owes as much to meeting the right person at the right time as anything. Sadly it seems little has changed over the last few years in that sense. I have a good key worker from a mental health charity and an at times ambivalent general practitioner who only sprang into action metaphorically when I sent him a lengthy diatribe explaining that perhaps telling someone they seemed to be coping ok when you hadn’t seen them in well over a year and had no idea really what they were or were not coping with was a bad idea.  This is not the ideal foundation by any means and relies on you having the staying power to keep banging your head against the brick wall in the hope that you may break it before it breaks you.

In the 21st Century I simply do not see that as acceptable in a society that spends money on all sorts of things designed to ‘enhance our lives’ and ‘keep us safe’, what is the point of any of it if people in crisis of any kind are not helped, it is a form of discriminatory behaviour predicated on pandering to the needs of those who do not need much at the expense of those who need something, most of all some help. It is a random and short-sighted arrogance for anyone to feel that they may not be one of the people in need one day because we know that money does not buy happiness and does immunise against mental ill health.

Such an injustice for those in need will not change overnight, it will take time and pressure but most of all it will take a debunking of the nature that this is somehow uncommon.  Many strides have been taken on account of people speaking out and declaring their mental health conditions, in some cases one might be cynical and claim that some had something to gain from that, be it publicity or such like, ultimately though it has still helped to shatter the myth of this being a low level problem that affects an underclass of people.  As more people come out and share their experiences so others are emboldened to do so and the general awareness of conditions and their proliferation increases, from that, one hopes the idea that ‘they didn’t have this much depression in the old days, people just got on with it’ will be consigned, rightly, to the dustbin.

Song Of The Day ~ Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener