If your life at all crosses the world of social media or even online news you have probably stumbled across this article. In short, a woman takes a sick day. Emails her team and tells them she is not coming in as she is taking a mental health day. Her boss praises her braveness. The internet grabs hold, post goes viral. Deservingly viral. Because we need to talk about mental health. In lots of different contexts. Judgement free and in the interest of building a better, more caring world.
The photo attached to this blog is of my just hours old most recent tattoo (I know, y’all are shocked to know I have multiple tatts right?). A semi-colon. But not just a grammatical symbol that breaks up a sentence without ending it. A tattoo of hope. Of solidarity. A commitment to not end what can keep going. To stand with others. To acknowledge that the brain is an organ, and like all organs, it can malfunction with devastating consequences. A symbol that says, ‘I see you’. It is inspired by The Semi Colon Project – have a read. It’s a wonderful movement saving lives.
I have acute generalised anxiety disorder. Basically, my body produces too much adrenaline, leaving my brain in a state of ‘fight or flight’ without an actual reason to be there. It has physical symptoms. Elevated heart rate, tense muscles. A sense of fear. It’s a chemical mishap. Managed through science by medication and a wonderful team of medical professionals. I used to be ashamed. I kept my illness a secret. I used to struggle through the worst of days alone. Then I realised. Would I be ashamed of a malfunctioning kidney or a heart that doesn’t beat quite right? Of course not. So why do we treat our brain any differently? This illogical stigma is causing people to live in pain, physical and emotional, so unnecessarily.
In 2015 2.8% of all male deaths were by suicide. We need to talk about depression. We need to talk about mental health. Or as I prefer to call it, brain health; and we so desperately need to do this with the men in our lives. Every day in Australia, eight people will take their own life. Six of them will be men. The stigma around mental illness is not without gender-bias. Collectively, it’s important that we grasp and embrace the science around our brains. It is a complex and vital organ with so many working parts, it makes perfect sense that at times it will malfunction. We have barely begun to understand the complexity of neuropathways, the frontal cortex, the potential regeneration of grey matter, the mix of essential brain hormones. Yet we place ‘mental health’ in a different category to body health. Is the brain not part of the body? If I recall primary school science it is pretty much THE most important part of the body.
There is no shame in an organ that isn’t operating at its optimum. Including if that organ is the brain. We separate feelings from science, yet our feelings are messages from our brain. Depression is caused through the imbalance of chemicals, messing with our brains ability to regulate feelings, often triggered by extended periods of stress or anxiety. It is NOT a failure of any person as a functioning human being. And it is treatable. Those pathways can be reset (how great is the brain!), chemicals can be balanced, the brain can, through therapy fight its way through the cloud of darkness.
To anyone out there who has felt that cloud, who has felt the weight of living as unbearable. I see you. You should not feel shame. You are valuable. PLEASE reach out.
Please ask your friends if they are ok. Not once a year. Often. Meaningfully. Be ready and wiling to really listen if the answer is no. If you are not ok. Know that you are still a worthy, fabulous person. It’s ok to not be ok. Ask for help.
Let’s work together to paint the world with semi-colons instead of the finalisation of a full stop.