I want you, yes you dear reader, to do me a favour. Just re-read that title and tell me immediately what comes in to your mind.
There's a few responses I am imagining:
If you know me well ~ Yes, I know why are you telling me this?!
If you know me a little ~ Yep, kinda guessed that!
If you know me online ~ I knew something was a little 'off' about you...
If you know academically ~ Really?
If you know me well enough ~ Nutter!
I have an official diagnosis to my problems, no solutions though. Anyway that's irrelevant.
My focus here is the phrase 'Mental health' and how people react to that information.
So what sprang to mind for you? Are you imagining I am sat here, staring a sophistic array of geekery whilst drool slowly dribbles out of my mouth? Or rocking in my chair, muttering? Maybe shouting obscenities at passers-by?
Okay, so as not to burst your bubble, I frequently do the latter two (although less shouting, more commentating quietly), but that's just who I am. The first one is a bit more of a dream for me, well the machinery, as opposed to the drool.
I have had mental health problems for years, I know exactly where they stem from, what caused them and who to blame, etc. But, I have managed to make a relative success of my life. I have done many things that others would love to do. I have acted on stage with luvvies, walked the Corrie cobbles, sang in front of 500 people dressed as Columbia from the Rocky Horror Show (me not them, that would be weird), swam for my town, made money writing essays and dissertations for students apparently more educated than me, moved to another country less than two days after seeing a job advertised, destroyed an evil boss' pride and joy, walked out of jobs that bore me, told bosses that bully me to go forth and multiply...
The list goes on, but none of these were caused by or driven by mental health, other than to improve it.
I am not a member of Mensa, this is either due to my inability to care enough to apply, my lack of ability to answer questions at a set time, or my opinion that I.Q. cannot be measured simply by answering a selection of questions that measure how well you can answer them at any given moment. I'll leave you to decide the answer to that yourselves.
I may not have the intellect of Stephen Hawking, the creative scriptings of J.K. Rowling, or the logic of Jean Piaget, but I don't think I am completely illiterate or stupid. I may lack common sense and an inability to speak at times (quite often through the combination of alcohol and too much time)!
So why do people, especially professionals, feel the need to react to me like I am either of those or a five year old child? Speaking in a 'baby' voice, we all know the one, 'Coochy coochy coo'. I bet you read that in the voice I mean, didn't you? or explaining words to me like I wouldn't know what they were if it exploded in front of me.
Is it their fault or is something we are all cultured to do? I use the phrase 'he's got issues' or 'she is seriously mental', but I don't immediate think the person I am saying that about is stupid in an intelligence sense. It's just not the thought that springs to mind. Is that because I am accepting, because I'm a 'patient' or that I simply don't understand what is happening?
I was recently shown around a day centre by one of the workers. Showing me the places and explaining them to me. I was there about thirty minutes, but within five minutes of meeting this guy I wanted to leave. The place itself was typical of what I have come to expect of community places, they always remind me of sixties style comprehensives that the teachers have tried to cheer up and personalise to make more welcoming. Although, the students always think it's lame, or whatever the current word is. I am sure it's a great place for the people who go there, they seemed content enough. They offer activities and learning experiences, these are taught or self led. Basically treat you like a child or ignore you. I am sure that doesn't happen, but that feeling for me was just backed up by the fact the guide spoke to me like I was a child. Granted I was with a medical professional, who although lovely and knowledgeable, isn't my mother. Questions perhaps should have been directed to me, you know, the service user.
I remember one of the operations my mother had, a knee replacement that went horrifically wrong, as a result she was in a wheelchair for a while. If I was pushing her, people would talk to me and not her, or do the baby voice thing. So it's not just a mental health problem, (pun intended) but a health problem.
All teaching about children, be it education, psychology, or childcare all involves getting down to their level, being an equal. Cesar Milan gives advice about body language to dictate discipline to misbehaving dogs. But what about adults, are we instinctively meant to know how to approach or talk to a person with disabilities, either mental or physical, permanent or temporary, or is something we should be taught? Who should teach it? Parents and teachers all reiterate the don't talk to strangers rule, but somehow we manage to make friends. We are capable of choice, please think about how you react in future.