Having delivered a presentation on resiliency to a police conference yesterday, speaking about how easy it can be to go into depression and have suicidal thoughts, I was asked a question - "What about the stigma if you speak up about being suicidal?"
I simply replied - "Talk about it to normalise it."
There is no doubt there remains a stigma attached to mental illness, an unfair mark of disgrace should you reveal that you are unwell. I believe the stigma is still real because we have never talked openly about mental illness, it has always been the unspoken 'disease' that we hid away.
Any one of us, given the right circumstances, is susceptible to a mental illness. Indeed, statistics indicate that 1-in-4 people have had a mental illness. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest it is probably double that. The statistics only record 'reported' illnesses, I have met many people who refused to seek professional help for whatever reason which goes unreported.
Using an analogy, if I break my arm and it is set in a cast, people will stop and ask what happened then show genuine concern and empathy for me. If I break my brain, people often aren't so empathetic and may try to avoid talking with me. Why is that?
Mostly, we fear the unknown.
Having been a police officer, isolation was what you could expect if you suggest that you are unwell in your head. Let me tell you, picking up body parts after a horrific road crash, prising a dead baby from her loving mothers arms, entering a house to locate an armed offender, and being assaulted, imprints negatively on your memory forever. And that's just one shift.
Other occupations are no different - soldiers, fire fighters, and ambulance officers to name a few - all undertake work that human brains are not programmed for. Call centre staff also have their fair share of stressful situations that few of us get to see.
In these times when suicide rates are rapidly climbing, we need to take action to reduce this preventable illness. We can't remain ignoring mental illness, doing nothing won't change the situation.
Talking about how mental illness affects and effects people is the way to overcome any stigma and will encourage those who are unwell to seek help.
Let's talk more about mental illness to educate and remove the stigma.