It’s mental health awareness week and I thought I’d pitch in. We have watched the world react to a viral pandemic, some communities and countries are doing much better than others but everywhere has had to do something to stop the spread of disease. It happened so quickly and so much awareness was brought to public attention in a matter of weeks. So why can’t we do this for mental health? A pandemic that kills more young people than any virus will. That is more preventable than any virus. A virus is a natural enemy of humans and can be contained and controlled. A mental health pandemic is much harder to contain and control because it is a disease of humanity. A symptom of the unnatural treatment of others. A symptom of abuse, neglect, deprivation, poverty and injustice. Prevention and healing takes understanding, a choice to behave better then what we were taught, to treat people better than we were treated and to admit when we are wrong. Something I know many governments wouldn’t even consider. There is a small glimmer of hope that the rise in mental health problems due to weeks of isolation may push awareness fully into public view, there has been a lot of talk of mental health during quarantine and I hope this is the beginning of a new era of understanding that mental health should be our top priority when it comes to health, no disease has ever affected so many people and yet still been widely ignored.
In all the articles and posts I have seen shared around this week I can’t help but notice a lack of information about what actually causes a person’s mental health to suffer. I realise this is because nobody likes to say “Yep, this is why”, there are so many factors at play in someone’s life that could lead to struggling with mental health. However it is widely agreed that childhood trauma, abuse and neglect is the most common cause of long term mental health struggles. Being abused and then nobody doing anything about it, leaves children open to abusive partners when they become adults as we learn that abusive behaviour is acceptable. That hurting other people when you’re hurting is normal and to be expected. We learn to sympathise with abusers. To believe we can help them heal and be better people. But you cannot help someone who is abusing you. To help someone heal their mental scars and change abusive behaviours the person must trust and respect you. Someone who is abusing you does not have respect for you and does not trust you.
For the last few weeks I have woken up angry everyday, angry at the way the people I love the most have been treated. Angry that this appalling behaviour is normal and acceptable. Angry that I lost my mum because of other people’s lack of control. Angry that the cycles are repeating and now I have to watch my sister live through it. Anyone can tell you abusing someone is wrong, but how many of us can actually recognise it or even better be willing to say something or do something about it. I spend all day trying to process and inevitably suppress my anger. Feeling helpless and deflated. Like I am the one that’s wrong. Most days my only escape is detaching from reality, unable to think clearly about anything, unable to feel anything at all. The answer I get from professionals is “it’s not my problem”, but do you not think that’s the problem in itself. We are all taught that it’s not our problem, if it’s not directly happening to us then it’s not for us to do anything about. I am not willing to believe it’s not my problem, in actual fact it’s all of our problems. It’s a worldwide fucking problem! Abuse in all forms is disgustingly common, every single one of us knows someone who has been abused at some point in their lives, most of us know several.
I was around 8 years old when I first started to figure out my loved ones had been abused, it took awhile for the adults in my life to confirm what I had been piecing together by myself but eventually it got out. It was a short conversation and that was it, life went back to normal. My “childish” thoughts and feelings were invalid. I was helpless. I felt pain I had no idea what to do with. I leant how to shut it off. Shut down my own thoughts and feelings to fit in with what was expected of me. To keep quiet and not cause any hassle. The phrase “ bad things happen to good people” was the answer I got when I asked my parents why? And I learnt that that meant that bad things were supposed to happen to good people. Mistreatment was inevitable and couldn’t be avoided. I hate this phrase, it sends pain down my spine when I hear people say it. It does nothing but justify the mistreatment of people. It implies that good people should put up with abuse. And while yes some of the best people in the world have been abused, it does not make you a bad person to leave an abusive situation. Ever. As an 8 year old child I knew it was wrong to treat someone badly, no matter what my own struggles were. I was made to feel wrong when actually I couldn’t have been more right but the adults in my life were too scared to rock the boat. I was right to be angry, I was right to feel pain. I was right to be heartbroken that my family had to live through that.
It’s taken almost two decades for me to get to a point where I can acknowledge just how wrong it is. To allow myself to feel the anger and injustice. Two decades of watching more and more abuse unfold. Abuse so vile, I could never have imagined someone treating a stranger that badly never mind someone they supposedly loved. I have spent a long time thinking about why we so easily accept abuse, pretend it doesn’t happen and something stuck in my head. If a stranger, in the street, came up to your child and was abusive. Would you stand for it? No. Is the answer. Most of us wouldn’t, most of us would get very angry and take the child away from the stranger. So why do we accept this treatment when it comes from family? Surely the standards should be higher for family, the drive to protect and love our children is what keeps us alive. But yet in households across the world we allow children to be mistreated and abused by family. Something has to change. And change happens when people begin to question what’s acceptable.
For those of you who are survivors of abuse and those of you still living with it. Know that you are not alone. Know that I see your strength, keep fighting and you’ll find your freedom one day.