I want to tell you a little story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
So, over the festive period, my partner and I went down to the local pub to meet a friend of ours and ended up getting lumbered with a group of people we didn’t know. Long story-short, those folks gradually peeled off until there was just us, our friend, and one of the new faces. Now, this person who shall remain nameless (because I didn’t bother to learn it) was one of those people that likes to tell you their whole life story whether you want it or not. But what came about, in the end, was the fact that her daughter suffered from what sounds like a pretty severe case of depression or some other mental health issue (it’s never easy to tell which impossible grey-area category to put people in unless you’re a professional, and even harder when you haven’t actually met the person). What it boils down to is that the 18-year-old daughter was a self-harmer. Poor kid. I was subjected to a protracted tale where the mother bragged (and I mean bragged) about how she had rugby tackled and slapped her daughter when she self-harmed after an argument they’d had.
My eye was twitching the whole damn time, as I’m sure you can imagine.
“Yeah, so she was doing suicide [actual quote] in the kitchen and I tackled her and screamed at her until she stopped. Then I marched her right to the doctors and made her see a counsellor. She’s seen them before but they obviously didn’t fix it.”
Mother of the year, Ladies, Gentlemen and everyone else.
Now I know that it can be extremely traumatic seeing your child self-harming and, in a panic, sometimes things go awry. That wasn’t what was happening here. This woman already knew about her daughter’s condition and coping strategy, and took great pride in the fact that she kicked the ever-loving-shit out of her as some kind of half-baked punishment. The phrasing was what hit me, too: “they obviously didn’t fix it”. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether the “it” meant the condition or her daughter. I swear, the tone implied either and both.
Through a long conversation, it seemed to me like the mother was the one with the real emotional problem and the daughter’ behaviours were more likely a by-product of an upbringing without any psychological role-model.
My partner, as she always does, told her that I also suffered from depression and ran this blog on it. To which the mother replied: “Oh, I’ll give her to you then. You talk to her.”
As I’ve said before, I’m no counsellor. I have no training and would never presume to give anyone advice about how to manage their on condition. I can only tell you how I deal with mine. I did, however, point out one thing:
“You do realise that self-harm and suicide attempts are completely different, right…?”
At this point, she realised that she was about to get both barrels and turned away, trying to change the conversation. She knew she was wrong, and that she’d shot her mouth off to the wrong people, like the complete idiot that she was.
In my attempts to be a better person, I’ve started taking deep breaths. This does absolutely nothing other than give me a moment to think whether this person is really worth the energy I’m about to expend. The answer is usually no. Anyway, I knew that she wouldn’t listen to me. This woman was quite happy blaming her daughter for everything and taking no steps to help, so there was no point. While writing this blog, I have also had to realise that I can;t help everyone, or be everyone’s shoulder to cry on. Lots of people have been in touch since Down Days launched last year, with innumerable stories about their individual conditions. I sympathise, and wish them luck with their condition, but never get involved. There are too many of us out there and, as you guys know, I’m still trying to deal with my own Down Days without taking on everyone else’s.
Anyway, back to the story. Meeting that woman has made me realise something about the care of mental health sufferers in this country. You see, my friends, there’s a real problem here that no one seems to be taking into account when dealing with us. The government needs to hop on the wagon with this one:
Dear everyone who has a loved one with a mental health condition,
Not them. You.
If you’re like this woman, and I’m sure that you aren’t, then your ignorance on the subject is causing just as much harm as the condition itself. This is not a common cold. There are no old wives’ tales about brown paper and vinegar that will fix your loved one’s psychological condition. You need to know what you’re facing, and what to do and not do. As long as you are listening, comforting, giving space when needed and being open to the needs of your loved one, you’re doing a great job, but only half of one. And as long as the NHS continues to look at each person with mental health issues in isolation to their environment, they’re only doing half a job, too.
Every person is a result of their environment and people around them. The poor girl in question was struggling on two fronts. She had a mental health condition, and her mother was an ignorant bull-headed idiot. This is purely personal experience but, every hour session of counselling would be better spent in a 50/50 capacity. The first half is for the sufferer themselves, the second part is for their closest relative/friend/companion. Not, you understand, to hand over information on the person’s condition. That’s purely confidential, but for the relative to get some damned training. The information that you can impart in half an hour is far more valuable than someone never being bothered to google the subject, or googling it and not understanding any of it.
There are support groups out there, of course, that can help with this thing, but the people who really need to use them don’t. If this was an essential and accepted part of every person’s counselling then, on both the individual and national scale, we’d be encouraging a far wider understanding of mental health issues.
This has been a long and probably boring post. My apologies for that, but I thought it was an interesting idea.
Thanks for reading!