Wednesday, 20 January 2016

1 in 4.

I've been thinking about the 1/4 statistic recently; y'know, that at some point, 1/4 people will suffer from a mental health problem. Excuse me, but I call bull. Actually, I was chatting all things mental health with students at Huddersfield Uni the other day and I literally called out 'bull' whenever the bloke I was presenting with referred to the stat.

The best way I can explain why I think it's such a load of bull probably won't go right online, but when has something not quite going ever stopped me doing anything? Exactly. I'm currently wearing a green, red and white jumper, with black, pink and purple joggers, so come on. My explanation method sort of worked when I was doing my public speaking thang, so just imagine you're a student (possibly hungover, because you're a student) in a lecture theatre with me. 

So raise your hand if you've ever had a mental health problem. Assuming that everyone was to humour me, theoretically a quarter of those asked would have their hand up right now. Ok, so you can put your hand down. Raise your hand if you've ever had a physical health problem. When I tried this with students, I probably ended up with about half the people in the room with their hand up, but I think if they weren't so worried I'd call on them, I'd probably have had even more. To anyone who hasn't put their hand up because they've never had a physical health issue, keep your hand down if, at any point in your life, you haven't had a cough or cold or ear infection or sickness bug or chickenpox or anything. All hands up? Exactly.

The 1 in 4 statistic is meant to demonstrate that mental illness is common, but it does the opposite, because the flip side is that 3 out of 4 people won't have a mental health condition. It's a Them and Us situation and it isolates. In my late teens especially, I lived much of my life online. I didn't have any friends who were open about being mentally ill and my illness was so all consuming that I didn't think the friends I'd had all my life would be able to understand that. So I sought out friendships online. I had friends from throughout Europe, the states and Australia. Eventually, I had very few friends left outside of my computer and so very few friends who weren't ill. I met some great people, mostly people in a similar situation, people who didn't think that the 3/4 people without mental health problems would care. But I met very few of them in real life. I was extremely isolated.

In making new friends this way, I did a massive disservice to people who had stuck by me all my life. I discarded the 3/4. I think I even became kind of elitist about it, as time went on, believing that nobody could or would get it. I made it into a sort of gang thing, an exclusive group that only the 1/4 could be a part of.  

We were Us and we had no interest in Them. They were Them and they were scared of Us.

That fear is what stops everyone raising their hand at the idea of having a mental health problem. It also takes something from people at different stages of their illness. It isolates those who are clearly in the 1/4, but it also isolates those who feel like they're not ill enough to be in the minority but not quite well enough to be in the majority.

This is what I think: mental health is fluid. It ebbs and flows. Any life will feature times when you get the mental health equivalent of a cold or bug, times when that develops into something more dangerous and times when you identify as mentally healthy. The symptoms vary in severity and longevity, but they're still worth noting. In the same way that you know getting a cold won't kill you, but you still try to avoid catching one, everyone needs to be aware of fluctuations in their mental health and protect themselves from becoming unwell. There is no 1 in 4 or 3 in 4. There are just people and a whole spectrum of illnesses to strengthen yourself against.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Rebecca, I could not have written this any better... I totally agree that there are degrees to any illness and all of us have had a little or more of each of these. I would be considered a 1 in 4 and I don't care what anyone thinks, I have dealt with a great deal in my life and came out stronger on the other side, it has helped me to be much less judgmental of other people... we are all humans.. awesome post xox