Society often gives the message that displaying emotions, crying, being moody or asking for help is weak. But on a bright Monday morning, when a 40-year-old client walked into the therapy room, all I could see was this incredible grit and gumption that tore through his anxious, shaky and hesitant composure.
It took him 9 years since he had his first anxiety attack to even consider seeking help for his mental health. His panic attack, as is often the case, had mimicked a heart attack. He said it was embarrassing for his parents and wife to be told by the doctor that it was ‘just a panic attack.’ So instead of feeling relieved that his cardiac health was okay, he was made to feel ashamed about “overthinking, not being a man about it.”
Essentially mental health was not a real thing. And it was definitely a sign of weakness.
He has had to deal with the illness and, on top of it, the stigma, misconceptions and ignorance that surrounds it. His illness is invisible, so people are less compassionate and understanding. They are skeptical about its validity. When I had a sprained knee from playing badminton -everyone called it a sports injury and remarked that I must be badass on the courts. I got flowers, visits and homemade goodies. After a full-blown panic attack, this gentleman was recommended positive thinking by his doctor - “OMG, obviously he must never have thought of that!” His family suggested to increase spiritual and ritualistic practices and his friends asked him to ‘not to think so much’ and ‘chill’ about life. He was often made to feel that somehow his emotional responses were not within the expected perimeter of adult behaviour.
Why do we, as a society, LET an illness/ condition that can easily be treated, cured and managed eat up the bones, chew & spit the very spirit of a person fighting it?
Why did we let him suffer for 9 years before he could gather his strength to seek help?
We are all stakeholders in the mental health of a society and our conversations around mental health can be a powerful tool to rewrite the very narrative that elongates the time gap between diagnosis and treatment.