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Mental Health: Guilt, Shame, Judgement

Why are you doing this? Why can’t you just stop? Do you hate me that much? Having a mental health condition can be hell, it’s difficult on your family and friends but most importantly, it’s difficult on you. Either you, or people you know, may make you feel guilty for having an illness, there will be blame and there may be anger but remember, what you have is an illness, and you can’t be penalized for that. If you were deaf, blind, had cancer or any medical illness that didn’t result from something like jumping off a trampoline and breaking, this, this and this, then you wouldn’t be looked down on and frowned at. People would rally around you, support you and look after you. A mental illness is no different… or it shouldn’t be anyway.

Questions like, ‘Why are you doing this?’, may sound extremely familiar to you. It’s easy when you’re on the outside looking in to judge someone or ask ‘Why’. Sometimes people will blame themselves for your condition, or others will blame them. It’s easy to watch an autistic child having a sensory meltdown and assume that they are having a tantrum, that the parents can’t control them. It’s easy for parents to ask ‘Do you hate me?’, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ when you self harm. It’s easy for people to question if you are attention-seeking. What many people won’t believe or accept is that the majority of mental health conditions are so, so difficult to control. It’s easy for a friend to say to a woman with bald patches and no eyebrows, ‘Why?’, ‘What’s wrong with you?’, ‘Can’t you just stop?’ but they don’t realize that woman has trichotillomania which is the compulsive need to pull hair out, it’s called ‘compulsive’ for a reason. In the majority of cases, she isn’t trying to make herself ugly, she isn’t deliberately doing it on her head so people notice, she actually feels incredible levels of shame and guilt for her actions. It may even be that she doesn’t realize that she is plucking her hair sometimes.

As human beings, it’s easy for us to look at someone and make the quickest and easiest judgement. If we see someone crying in the street, we might think she’s weird but she might have severe anxiety and be having a panic attack, something that completely takes over her body. If we see someone talking to themself, we might judge and call them a ‘freak’ but they could suffer from paranoid delusions or schizophrenia, and that isn’t their fault. Maybe all that person needs is to be told everything will be okay, that nobody’s going to hurt them. Maybe that person wants you to walk by without gawking and staring. Maybe that person has been emotionally or physically abused leading to problems like depression and anxiety, and is just trying to regain their place in society without fear.

One problem with all the guilt and shame related to mental health conditions is there just isn’t enough education on mental health. When there is media attention to mental health conditions, it’s usually negative. There’s a negative stigma to teenage self harm that it is all attention seeking and silly but it’s impossible to understand why that person has felt desperate enough to do it. There isn’t enough awareness on conditions like asperger’s syndrome which can be less physically obvious as autism itself but is still a life-changing condition for those who suffer from it. If you’re a family member of someone with a mental health condition, take the time to research and truly understand that they might not be in control of their actions or words, that they need your unconditional love and support whilst they get through whatever it is whether they need medication or therapy or both. If you’ve just discovered you have a mental health condition and your friends and family don’t understand, do the research for them, sit down with them and discuss it. Make it clear that when you say ‘it’s uncontrollable’, that they understand you’re not lying, you’re not exaggerating, that actually it’s extremely serious to you. Remember, always remember, that it is not your fault, it isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is something you will either get through completely or learn to control.

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