the political importance of mental health

Leon writes an excellent post over at Speaker’s Chair today.  It covers his experience of mental ill-health, in his case a recently-diagnosed depression, and the constructive reaction he has manifested in supporting a cross-party campaign in favour of mental wellbeing:

I’m supporting a cross-party campaign called Mental Health 2015, led by Danny Bowman. Danny is a person who has experienced mental health issues first hand and is someone who wishes to make a change in how not only the public views those with mental health issues but how politicians as well view people and treat people with mental health issues. I suppose I have a personal stake in this as well.

As he goes on to tell us:

I was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with depression. It’s something I never understood at the time. Depression never made much sense to me. I thought it just meant someone was really upset. But it was only when I started to suffer from the symptoms of it that I realised what a lonely experience is it.

Loneliness, more widely, is the bane of a society which looks to replace humans with robots; discourse with opinion; and social exchange with the exchange & mart that is life’s more general monetisation.

No.  This is not a party-political point I’m making.  We are all part of the system; all unable, quite, to properly step out of it.

I posted the following comment at the end of Leon’s article.  I republish it here to provide context:

Hi Leon – many thanks for posting this. You’ve struck what’s often a tricky balance between communicating your experiences in mental ill-health and associating yourself with something highly productive which looks, in the politically inclusive way you indicate, to help things get better in some way or another.

My diagnosis, back in 2003, was super-scary – though more for those around me than myself; I lived in a Snowden world a decade before Snowden came on the scene. Many of the things in my medical record would now seem default positions for a properly liberal society to hold, though others would still seem a little weird all the same.

But the important thing in my case – and I hope you will get there one day – is that I am a person who has suffered (still officially suffers) mental ill-health, but I am not a mentally-ill person. A person above all, quite before illness – never to be defined nor circumscribed by illness, either physical or mental.

And that, Leon, I hope you can see too.

I get the impression you can.

I’m glad.

In solidarity, Miljenko …

In truth, although for everyone else around me it was, for me it was never really scary – except for one weekend when down-and-out in London.  I had to give up a watch (the most expensive one I had ever owned – before, then and now) that my dear wife had gifted me back in Spain; it was to a waiting taxi-driver which that treasured possession ended up, as I was unable to pay the fare in a cash I simply didn’t possess.

And the only reason I didn’t throw myself off a bridge that weekend was that I couldn’t be sure the life insurance I’d been paying since uni had had its premium paid that penniless summer month.  I didn’t want to leave my wife and children with absolutely nothing in my potential absence.  Whilst I myself, by that time, considered my being of little value, I felt the least I could do was to ensure they didn’t suffer monetarily.

Thankfully, the uncertainty of that premium’s payment or not – and perhaps, also, my own self-preserving cowardice (a gorgeous cowardice that surely ennobles human beings in times like these) – kept me alive.  And so I am here to gladly – and safely – tell the tale.

I could tell a much longer story about the things I experienced those months in London town, but it would only make you pity me.  What Leon has achieved in his post on mental ill-health, meanwhile, is – as I say in my comment – strike that difficult balance between self-revelation and a socially-located constructive action.

Perhaps, after more than a decade, I need to find that balance myself.


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