In this country, the days when 'mad' people were sent to asylums and
treated like criminals or animals are, thankfully, long past. So why
is there still so much stigma and prejudice attached to mental illness
today? The main reason is that we don't understand it, and we probably
don't want to understand it because we're afraid. But ignorance and
fear are closely related. Perhaps if we can be brave enough to try and
understand what mental distress is all about, we'll find that it isn't
so terrible after all. Moreover, what we learn may help us cope better
with our own emotional problems, as well as making us more tolerant
of other people. People are generally more reluctant to talk about emotional
feelings than physical feelings-whether their own, or other people's.
We can usually cope quite easily if a family member has physical illness.
But what if that same person is crying for no apparent reason, or not
speaking, or being bad-tempered or aggressive, or otherwise behaving
differently from normal? Then we often feel embarrassed or awkward,
afraid or helpless. We may try hard at first to be sympathetic, to comfort
and reassure the person, but then feel cross and become impatient when
they seem unable or unwilling to explain what's troubling them. We may
also feel secretly guilty, as if we're personally to blame in some way.
It often seems much easier and safer to ignore the problem, hoping it
will just go away. Everyone has their ups and downs, and most people
manage to live through the 'downs' more or less successfully. Often
we can see what it is that's making us feel nervous or miserable, for
most external events or changes in our lives affect our 'inner worlds'
too. It's not surprising that we're upset when we lose our job, when
someone close to us dies, when a relationship breaks up, or when we
have to move to a strange town or country. It takes time to face up
to the new situation and readjust. We may feel so afraid, angry or guilty
that our anxiety or depression lasts for a considerable time, but most
of us do recover, eventually, even though we may never forget the experience
or regain our 'old selves' completely. However, some people, for various
reasons, need a lot more help and support to get over emotional upsets.
It's important to remember that different people experience and react
to the same event in all sorts of different ways. One of the hardest
things is to try and put us into someone else's shoes and to see the
world as it appears to them, without applying explanations and remedies
based on our experience. It's useless to say to a seriously depressed
person, 'Pull yourself together!' or 'Look on the bright side', because
in that person's own view of things, there's nothing to pull together,
and no bright side.