If you struggle with mental health issues, aren’t you sometimes annoyed by things people say to you? Stop wallowing? Pull yourself out of it Go for a run?
There are many things people say to me about my mental health – and that of others – that annoy me. I am sure they may have the best intentions in mind. They usually mean well. They think they’re helping. Speaking to others, I know that I am not alone in feeling that normal, healthy, happy people should be more guarded. All my life people have been saying things like the following to me.
“You should stop wallowing in your misery and snap out of it and pull yourself together.” As though I have a choice. I find this the most annoying thing people sometimes say.
“But you are so successful …”. I am often told that and it is clearly given as a reason as to why I can’t be mad, or be on the spectrum, or have ADHD. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that by most measures I have been relatively successful in my career, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been very hard work, or that I haven’t just been very lucky. (Yes, I have “impostor syndrome” too.) Or that I couldn’t have done even better with a more normal brain.
“You should just go for a run.” It helps, I know, but when you are severely depressed you just can’t. And it will not cure a seriously depressed person.
“I know you’ve had mental health problems but …” People have actually said this to me. Bring on the equality, diversity, and discrimination training in the workplace! Would they have said something similar to someone in a wheelchair?
If only people would stop before they say anything personal to someone struggling with mental health problems and ask themselves “would I say this thing to someone with cancer?”. Of course the person might think that mental illness and physical illness are different, and that the former is a person’s fault, while the latter isn’t. Changing that outlook is the most important task in the fight against stigmatising mental illness.
Don’t let people say any old rubbish to you.
(I am sorry about the brevity of this post, but a post is better than no post. I have been “wallowing” a great deal lately.)
I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee, Scotland. I am the author of several books, including the best selling texts "The psychology of language" (now in its fourth edition) and "Talking the talk: Language, psychology and science". I am currently also writing books on the science of consciousness and on the philosophy of science as applied to psychology (the latter with Richard Wilton), with both due to be published in 2017. Several other books are in the pipeline.
My research interests are varied and I have published widely in some of the leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. My interests include language production, how we represent meaning, computer models of the mind, sleep and dreams, consciousness, mental illness, personality and motivation, the effects of brain damage on behaviour, and how the weather influences behaviour.
I believe passionately that scientists, particularly those paid from the public purse, have a duty to explain what they do to that public. I also believe that we can reach a wide audience by the use of social media and new ways of explaining what we do.
In my spare time I use stand-up comedy to talk about my research; a few years ago I appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe. One of the strangest things about being a comic is that I am often severely depressed (as well as anxious and obsessive). I have been on many types of medication, with varying degrees of success. When depressed I am always struck by how pointless everything seems: nothing seems worthwhile, and those things that I usually enjoy (playing the piano - even if not very well, looking at the natural world, reading, watching movies) no longer entice. My interest in things is a very accurate barometer of how well I am. I have realised that some mental illnesses, particularly severe mood disorders, are in part a loss of purpose and meaning in life. Becoming well involves recovering this purpose. I am also very keen to help remove the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.
All of my life I have been puzzled by the question of what is the best way to spend my time. This blog is my search for answer to that question. In it I talk about my life, psychology, mental illness, purpose, living a better life, time management, existential despair, death (making me a death blogger I suppose), being creative, writing, and trying to write when depressed. I try and blog once a week or so; long silences usually mean I'm too depressed to write.
For more information about me, see the home page of my website at www.trevorharley.com. I welcome comments on my blog, or if you prefer you can email me at email@example.com. You can follow me on Twitter at @trevharley.
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4 thoughts on “Things people say”
Wise and heartfelt words, Trevor. Depression, especially when it is accompanied by anxiety, is a disease even more lethal than cancer amongst young people, especially young men.
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It is more difficult for men, particularly young men, to admit that there is anything seriously wrong. Things have improved though. When I was young I didn’t even really know what depression and anxiety were, even though I experienced them. I’m not sure I knew there was even a thing called mental illness until I read a Sunday Times article about it when I was 16 or so. So there has been progress, but not enough.
Some people struggle to find the right words, and have a good intension.
And some people should keep quiet, for sure.
Agreed. Some mean well, and help; some mean well, but mess it up; and some people don’t know what they’re talking about.