It’s been quite some time since I wrote something for this blog. While I started writing again, especially since there’s been some evolution on topics I previously covered, I thought I should write at least a short paragraph on why I was absent. Well this paragraph became its own thing and the result is this post on mental health.
To say the least, the past year has been … rocky. I will not list the things that happened in my life because it is mostly unnecessary and also concern other people than me in some instances. Suffice it to say that I had just recovered from a burn out, I was overwhelmed by unexpected work, and a succession of hardship fell upon a person very close to me. I think anyone in the same situation would cut the “less important” things like blogging and other hobbies as time becomes more precious, especially since I did not want to recreate the circumstances that lead to my burn out. Beside this, my circumstances lead to several reflections on mental health which I have decided to share here.
The first is the inadequacy of our healthcare system to properly deal with mental health issues. I was lucky when I did my burnout because I was covered by some private insurance and was able to consult a psychologist in addition to my physician. While Canadian public healthcare will cover things like seeing a physician, hospital care and specialists such as a psychiatrist, it does not cover medication (except during hospital stay or treatment) and it certainly does not cover any other mental health therapy. Although some programs will help cover the costs of medication, patients are left without help if they do not have private insurance as the cost of therapies is often prohibitive for the majority of people. Medical treatments are often only part of the solution, a way to alleviate symptoms, but rarely a way to deal with the underlying cause of the mental health issue. Beside the inaccessibility of effective treatments, the system is plague by inadequate medical “experts”. For the first time I witnessed the ineffectiveness of psychiatric care. Without going in details, my experience involved more than one psychiatrist and was corroborated by many people. I was troubled at how pointless and sometime counterproductive they can be. It reinforced my belief that some drastic changes are needed in mental health care provision.
The second is the lack of institutional support. By that I mean in the work place, in school, etc. Even in places that are considered progressive, like universities, there is still a lot of work to do to take mental health at least as seriously as physical health. For example, in my academic life, it often feels like you get “half” the support you would need. The administration claims to support you and sometime even manifests that support. But besides taking leaves, there were no other solutions offered, and certainly no introspection. Even though some of the things in my faculty contributed to my problem (and the pressure of academic life affect negatively the mental health of many), I was offered very little guidance even though my requests were more than reasonable. But at least I was given time to heal and a lot of people showed their understanding and support. There was a framework of sort, even if minimal, and you come to appreciate it when you are in situation, like my current work, where none exist. I was left entirely on my own and thus made things very stressful and complicated. I at least did not have superiors pushing me and having trouble accepting that mental illnesses are real illnesses. The taboo surrounding mental health is still very present and people often find themselves alone, with no support and in conflict with some form of authority, be it your boss, your supervisor, your professor, etc. The BellTalk hashtag, while I doubt its effectiveness, does have a point, we need to talk about mental health a lot more.
Finally, despite my best efforts, I still had internalized issues with mental illness and treating it like a serious health issue. I have always been very supportive (I hope) of others dealing with mental health issues, but when it comes to my own, I’ve been pretty dismissive. While I made some progress during the worst of my burnout, the minute I started being functional again is the minute I regressed into the “everything is all right” stage. But that’s the thing, everything is not all right and ignoring the situation will only result in more problems. I was more careful with certain things like workload and taking time off. However, I was still terrible about communicating, especially about things impacting my health. I still wasn’t treating my issues as health issues, at least in my behaviour. Those are things I’m still working on. Many people struggling with mental health issues are in the same situation. We are often our first obstacle as we reflect societies discomfort with mental illness. This is something that we must resist. We must accept to treat our mental health problems with outmost seriousness, and respect our own limit, no compromise. I acknowledge that this might be difficult given external circumstances, such as the two points above, but we must at least try to change our thoughts. Then we can advocate and fight for change; when we are convinced; when we no longer accept “just get over it” as a response; when we don’t let anybody walk on our feet. Being more open and assertive about it is one of the ways I intend to implement my own suggestion.
It is more than time to treat mental health like physical health, like the serious issue with significant impact on society it is.