(is that too many capital letters in one title?)
A few days ago it was Mental Health Awareness Day, and various social media channels were filled with loving encouragements for people to be open about any difficulties with their mental health they may happen to be having. For one lovely day, ‘talking about it’ was more popular on Twitter than the distracted boyfriend meme, as the Internet sought to break the awful and entrenched taboos around talking about mental health, to help people overcome their individual issues.
An issue with this way of tackling one’s issues, however, is that talking about a problem is not equivalent to solving that problem. That is to say, once one has broken that taboo, and becomes open about their mental health, continuing to stick to the doctrine of ‘talking about it’ can offer few solutions, and actually be harmful for several people involved. At least in my experience.
I’m a person who is both disarmingly open about their struggles, and a sufferer of a range of mental health issues, predominantly severe depression and severe anxiety. My problem is that I’ve talked about it, if anything, too much. Instead of actively dealing with the causes of these issues – my low self-esteem, my willingness to avoid solutions, my unwillingness to push through difficult experiences and situations in order to make myself more comfortable with them – I just talk. And talk. And talk.
From endlessly complaining to my friends, both in person and via text, to sadly and ominously tweeting about my own misery at three in the morning as I cry-eat Doritos in bed, I have both personal experience, and public encouragement, pushing me towards ‘talking’ as the versatile omni-solution to these more complicated problems. In addition to not actually solving them, this reliance on mere aimless conversation is addictive; I’m encouraged to continue vapidly discussing nondescript elements of my psyche because it’s easy, but feels like I’m making progress, which only delays my actual movement towards healthiness, and makes me more likely to continue this charade of self-improvement.
There is also damage in a social environment. I’ve had many friendships fizzle out, or even explode into dust, because my relationship with that person consisted of little more than mutual complaining and dependence, that started with comforting one another in our shared struggles, before collapsing into a personal bitching ground for a range of issues, severe and trivial, for both of us. We would create bubbles of suffering, where we’d moan about our lot in life, in a kind of perverse race to the bottom of one’s self-esteem, endlessly trying to out-depress one another with stories of how sad we were. Unsurprisingly, those intense, negative relationships didn’t last long, and I’m bitter that I ruined some otherwise wonderful friendships like that. Friends exist to be one’s friends, not necessarily personal councillors, and I lost far too many friends before that lesson finally stuck.
Even if a relationship doesn’t break down over these kinds of conversations, there is significant emotional toil placed on those around an individual, as a result of that individual’s fondness for psychological openness. I saw a profound tweet rise to the top of the cesspool that is Twitter once, that argued that the reason for the apparent increase in mental health disorders recently is that the human brain is not designed to absorb the psychological impact of that much suffering, and in a world where every natural disaster, terrorist attack, Trump action and, now, as a result of ‘talking about it’, personal gripe spelled out in a hundred and forty characters, is laid bare in public, we are each having to shoulder the emotional burden of a hundred people. Twitter, especially, has become an echo chamber of sad people retweeting other sad people, whole schools of memes and Twitter personas built around self-depreciation to the point of self-abuse, and the longer you remain in the chamber, surrounded by the equally comforting and harmful accounts, words and pictures around you, the harder it is to get out.
This is not to say that the ‘talking about it’ initiative is a bad idea, far from it. My life has certainly become more complicated since I was seventeen, and the lows are far lower, but on balance an openness and willingness to discuss personal problems, and make introspection a public, communal process where the minds of many can be put to work on a single problem, has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on my mental health. Indeed, Mental Health Awareness Day, and the ideas it represents, does a significant amount of good to legitimise mental health problems, at a time where, in this country at least, such issues are being ignored and actively pulled apart by the government.
But beyond being an entry point to other solutions to mental health issues – medication, therapy, petting Good Boys – publicising these problems may not do much to actively solve them. The next step is to upgrade Mental Health Awareness Day to Mental Health Recovery Day.