This is me.
I am a mental patient.
I take prescribed medication every single day. I have fortnightly therapy sessions, and a computerised CBT course to keep me busy in between. All to try and calm the noise inside my head. To bring me back to a place where I can function properly. Where I can be happy.
It took a long time for me to admit that there was a problem. Years. Partly because it doesn’t fit neatly with my desire for a perfect life. Partly because I always assumed I’d be able to cope by myself. And partly because it’s just something that nobody ever talks about. It’s a tricky subject to broach.
This morning we went to the newsagents for a loaf of bread. In between manouvering the buggy through the only-just-big-enough door, and trying to stop Elvie scootering into the cakes, I caught sight of the papers. I could just see the top of the Sun’s headline. 1200 KILLED.
I racked my brains. I lost most of my weekend to man flu, chocolate pudding and Strictly, but I’m sure I would have noticed a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. If only because someone posted about it on Facebook. In the time it took me to buy my bread I was none the wiser, so I gave in. As I got closer, I could read the full headline.
1200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS. In blood red capital letters.
Angry doesn’t quite cover it. My blood was boiling. No wonder we keep these things to ourselves. No wonder we hide away, convinced that we’re monsters. No wonder Asda find it appropriate to sell ‘mental patient’ outfits for Halloween. We’re a cheap target.
It’s always easiest to go for the quiet ones. The ones who don’t stand up for themselves. The ones who have been shamed into silence.
I am assuming that there is some truth behind their story. That over the last ten years, 1200 people have been killed by people suffering from mental illness. That is horrendous. 1200 families ripped apart. 1200 tragedies that could potentially have been avoided. I have no issue with the facts.
My issue is with the reporting. The generalising and the scaremongering. I doubt very much whether anyone has commissioned a study into how many people were killed by cancer patients in the last decade. Or asthmatics. I doubt anyone has been collating data on the crime rate among the diabetic community.
There’s just not the same market for that kind of story. ‘Mental patients’ play into the worst kind of fears. People who can’t control themselves. High on prescription drugs. Dealing with their multiple personalities or depression, all whilst living on your street. Hiding amongst the ‘normal people’. Just waiting to whip out their chainsaws at the first sight of a full moon. Mental illness just doesn’t pull in the same kind of sympathy as other diseases.
It’s true, 1200 people is an awful total. But I would be willing to bet that, over the last decade, far more than 1200 people have taken their own lives as a result of mental illness. Unable to deal with the stigma. The shame. The fear that people will find out. And judge. This idea that somehow, we’re different. Broken. Dangerous.
The truth is, we’re no more broken or dangerous than anybody else. No matter what the publishers would have you believe.
I am a mental patient. But that’s not the sum total of my life. I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I collect recipe books. I am Team Kimberley for the Great British Bake-off and Team Dave for Strictly. I sincerely believe that Barrichello rejoining Formula One would be a bad idea. I can’t wait for it to be cold enough to wear my boots again. I make amazing roast potatoes. I have kept every picture my daughter has ever drawn. Just the thought of Christmas makes me smile.
Nobody can be summed up in one paragraph. Certainly not in one sentence, and absolutely not in two words. ‘Mental patients’ are people too. Real people.
We’re already facing huge challenges every day. We’re already being as brave as we can be. And too many of us are disappearing out of sight, Unable to tell our friends or family. Sometimes unable to face it ourselves.
It’s time to start telling stories built on trust and hope and empathy. Rather than building on people’s fears and prejudices. Focusing on the things that bring us together. Not what makes us different. Time to celebrate people’s achievements. Not demonise their problems. That’s the only way things will get better.
It might not sell many papers. I’m ok with that. Mind you, I am mental.