The gratuitous loss of life in the French Alps is the latest in a constellation of catastrophes that impel us to a short-lived, frenetic discussion about mental health – mostly, as it turns out, how dangerous it is when people who work in any capacity with people don’t have it. Until recently, there was very little discussion of psychoactive substances, sometimes known as medication, their side effects, the perils of withdrawal and appropriate lengths of time on these drugs. In fact, it’s still mainstream messaging, even from organizations and nonprofits legitimately trying to help, to “ask your depressed friend if he’s taking his meds” or to “check in with his GP” as if doctors are more and more the new drug reps.
The amount of mis- and disinformation out there enshrined as the lay-person’s Best Practices is, well, depressing (gosh, I wish that word weren’t so over-used and practically worn through – I’m really serious when I use it here). I don’t feel I can combat this on my own so for now, I’m not going to try. My main point currently is that we need to stop the sporadic outbursts of cries for mental healthcare reform. This happened a little over half a year ago, too, with the suicide of Robin Williams. We “have to talk about mental health” became the battle cry of the mental-health activists and I’m (n0t) sorry, I just can’t join you.
We don’t need to just “talk about” mental health, and certainly not only when tragedies occur. It matters how we talk about mental health and right now, despite our Let’s Talk About It campaigns and our oft-rehearsed “It’s Okay To Talk About Depression” rally cries, we are not talking about it as a human family in helpful ways. Even articles that claim to talk about the drastic need to end the stigma undermine themselves in their opening paragraphs by subtly reciting the same sensationalistic propaganda that The Establishment needs to manufacture enough fear and distraction to rule over you: that people who are mentally “ill” should not be allowed to do high-risk jobs. Given the mainstream media (alternate media is being actively censored by Google, Facebook and other telecom conglomerates so mainstream is what most of us drink without knowing there may some less tainted water elsewhere) and its reporting on violence, tragedies and suffering the world over, it’s actually, um, not okay to talk about depression. If you do, your skills, competency and employability could be scrutinized – as if the ADA does not legally forbid compulsory disclosure of a disability (and yes, depression and its ilk counts under that legislation) – and you could be seen as a dangerous threat.
Unless you’re not. Then, you’re seen as lazy. Stigma bisects judgment of those struggling with mental and emotional distress into either “you don’t look sick” or “your sickness makes you an unstable terrorist.” The middle ground here should be “treatment is community,” – you know, connection with other human beings who care and who love you. Instead, it’s the gray smear of indifference herniating into public policy, professional “treatment” and individual relationships. Whether it’s one in four who will suffer from acute mental distress (there’s reason to question this statistic) or one in 400, though, shouldn’t matter. Stigma’s still stigma no matter how small. And you don’t fight it just by talking about it. Words matter: it matters very much how we talk about it. And I have one thing to say to those with the loudest power (the mainstream media): Haven’t those with depression suffered enough?