I sometimes think of depression as similar to that mythical bogeyman we faced as children. Whether it hides under the bed or in the closet, or sits astride our chest, for some of us the monster in our mind grows in adulthood to become an ogre of menacing proportions.
Sadly, much like the childhood version, it's seen by many as imaginary.
But poor mental health cannot be banished by putting on the lights or screwing our eyes shut or calling frantically for parents to please, please, come quickly. No, depression, anxiety and the illnesses associated with our mind are far more cunning than that. Rolled into the mental health bogeyman, they have worked out how to cut and slice, to scar and bruise the psyche without being seen, heard or properly understood by the outside world.
But an attempt is being made to change this. It's currently World Mental Health Week and the message for 2016 is 'Dignity in Mental Health: Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for All'. It's aimed at bringing the stigma of mental health issues out of the shadows, making it a non-issue.
This is a great message. There is no denying many workplaces, for example, are rising to the challenge and adapting their internal and external policies to better communicate that mental illness is no different from arthritis, or cancer, or any other chronic physical illness. There are degrees of severity, and a multitude of different symptoms, causes and characteristics which those who suffer from mental illness or issues face.
Some people want to talk about their issues openly, some don't. As much as some people happily discuss their latest operation in the lunchroom over a cup of tea, there are some who have depression and anxiety who, when not in the midst of a bad cycle, will willingly talk about their feelings.
It doesn't mean everyone is happy to, though, and this is where the message needs to be carefully interpreted.
I remember all too well my personal monster. It's pretty easy, really; the last time I saw him was only about three hours ago. He was sitting somewhere in my pre-frontal cortex, telling me slyly to stop this writing nonsense, stop it now, before I make a fool of myself. Who do I think I am, anyway? Someone that people might wish to engage with, comprehend, listen to? You're nothing, he whispers, pulling my hair, twisting his long, spindly fingers further and further into the pain receptors of my brain. You're nobody, and you never will be.
I try to smack him away, to say I am worthy, I am valued, I am. But the mental cuts are opening again, and to be honest, it's just too tiring to fight all the time.
The main reason I do fight it is because of my working life. My partner, my family, and my friends are incredibly important to me, but they understand that due mainly to having young-onset Parkinson's disease, depression is a constant challenge. Anybody who suffers from a chronic physical illness or disability has mental health obstacles to face. Throw in the (current) incurable factor, and yes, there are days when the bogeyman gets on top of the bed and jumps up and down. I find it very hard to discuss it publicly, but I try, because it means others who are less, well, wordy, are more likely to discuss it, too.
This is because for many individuals who have mental health problems, the bogeyman actually rears its ugly head again at the thought of having to discuss said problems ad infinitum in front of a group, or without warning.
That we are, as a society, trying to reduce the bogeyman of mental illness to a manageable size, at the very least, and make him almost a figure of fun -- brilliant. But he doesn't ever go away.
Parkinson's is never going away -- at least not at this stage in a race for a cure -- so why would one of the major symptoms associated with it? What can be done is to control or reduce the effects of said symptom, through exercise, sleep, counselling, and sometimes medication. And yes, the ability to talk openly among my professional peers, my managers, and my staff.
It has to be when or if I choose, however, and this needs to be part of workplace education.
Dignity. That, to me, is the key part of the catchcry.
Dignity has to be maintained for all with mental health issues. Openness, but on the right terms.
It's the best way to make the monster hide.