In case you haven’t noticed, this week is Mental Health Week, a national event coinciding with World Mental Health Day, which is on the 10th. I was vaguely aware of the event, but there was a big event at uni yesterday. Various groups were offering that uni event staple, free food. Including the Food Co-op, who were offering a delicious hot meal with homemade bread – but you had to earn your meal by either hopscotching or hoola-hooping. There were stalls for Headspace and boards where you could write on a post-it note something you were thankful for, or something nice you do for yourself every day.
There was a stage and celebration of multiculturalism, which was great. At one point a man who I assumed was employed in the field got on stage and led us in a communal mindfulness exercise. My phone rang halfway through so I walked off an answered it.
The whole event was pleasant. Except at one point, when the MC yelled at us, “Are you feeling mentally well?!?! Do you have good wellbeing??!” which is kind of like when we’re on holidays, and Mum says, “Are we having fun yet?!” usually ironically, after someone’s had a fight. Except when Mum says it, she’s joking and the MC wasn’t joking. Or maybe she was. Hard to tell.
The event got me thinking about the diversity of mental illness. The event was great, but I couldn’t help contemplating that the people with severe mental illnesses would probably not be able to make it. Comparing it to a physical illness, it was like a health promotion event for the common cold. They had solutions for people with a slightly sore throat or people who didn’t have the cold at all – solutions like keep up your vitamins, go to bed early, have a day off work at the first sign of cold. Whereas a lot of people have the equivalent of being knocked out with flu for three weeks, constant aching and zero energy. It’s like in Saving Francesca, when Francesca researches depression and one of the recommendations is “get exercise”. Francesca is incredulous: “She can’t get out of bed and they want her to join the gym?”
The cold is just one physical illness. Everyone understands there are heaps of physical illnesses. But when we talk about mental illness, we most often talk about depression, second is anxiety, and that’s about it. I only realised yesterday that I am guilty of this. It could be because they are the illnesses I have most experience with, both directly and vicariously.
So to tie this up, if there is one piece of advice I could give to anyone with any spectrum of any sort of mental illness, I would say: Be kind to yourself. It is the simplest piece of advice, but so hard to follow.