The curse of the so-called invisible illness

When your friend tells you they have a migraine, you assume that they have a migraine. You might never have had a migraine yourself, but you have heard of the crippling pain it can cause and you extend your sympathy and well wishes. 

When your friend tells you they have a UTI, you assume that they have a UTI. You might even sing them the UTI song. 

When your friend tells you they have stomach cramps, you assume they have stomach cramps.  

There is seldom a reason to mistrust your friends; after all, you chose them as friends for a reason.  

When your friend tells you their child has been up all night crying, you assume that's the case.  

When your friend says they have a mental illness, you assume that they're at best sensitive and at worst lying.  

Wait. What? 

When I was recently talking to my dad about how mental health resources need diversity and investment, the topic came up about how quick people are to doubt the validity of someone's mental illness and he said this: 

It's probably because so many people lie about being stressed, to get some time off work.  

Now, before you lynch my Dad know this: he is a socially liberal, supportive and all-round progressive person. He is an advocate for improving the way we talk about mental health, pro fighting the stigma and has been nothing but positive about all the work I put into this blog.  

Yet there's a socially encouraged, media driven tendency to question mental illness above ALL OTHER ILLNESS; and I'm not just talking out of curiosity. 

We have come on leaps and bounds in recent years with regards to mental health, with both talk and tolerance higher than it ever has been. There are now policies in place, both nationally and locally and most employers now have guidelines and procedure to best support their staff. Officially, we are moving in the right direction. Awareness is up. Stigma is down. 

On the ground though, that is to say "unofficially", there is work to be done. I know many people who struggle to keep up appearances and stay in the rat-race, while privately balancing their mental health and I know very few people who have enough confidence in society to outwardly express the symptoms of their condition. 

Clearly, we still haven't quite got the outlook we need. So, to people who have ever thought or uttered the same sentiment as my Dad, I would say this:

How many people do you actually KNOW who have lied about having a mental illness? And when I say KNOW, I mean you have KNOWN for a FACT - not assumed based on your own deduction of what mental health looks like? 

Now how many do you KNOW have lied about physical ailments, whether to get out of work, a social occasion or to avoid admitting that they are struggling with mental illness? 

I know far more of the latter.  

The fear of admitting to a legitimate mental health issue is far stronger than the appeal of a few weeks off work. And I would argue that there are far more people who have sacrificed there annual leave in the name of caring for their own mental wellbeing than there ever have been people who have "faked" a period of stress.   

When you doubt someone's mental illness and severity or their symptoms, what are you gaining? There is nothing supportive, productive or even nice in such a demonstration of mistrust.  

For those of you with progressive, positive and inclusive attitudes to mental health, it is World Mental Health Day: let your friends, family, colleagues and society know that you will not stand for stigma and you will not settle for anything less than tolerance, acceptance and equality.  

I have previously quoted Karl Pilkington, I'm now going to make the leap to Ghandi:  

Be the change you want to see in the world.  

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 (sorry to pick on you, Dad)


Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is never easy. Read more here.

Anneli RobertsComment