There has been a massive increase in mental health awareness recently and I just wanted to share some thoughts on the subject. I’m no psychologist, but I do consider the drivers behind the personalities in the characters I write about. And I admit some of the characters in There There My Dear exhibit emotions that I have felt at some time in my life.
One thing that intrigues me is the route of mental ill health. For example, I understand that stress can cause anxiety and anxiety can lead to depression. Under such circumstances it is likely that the cause of the stress can be identified and, consequently, cited as the cause of mental ill health.
But what leads individuals to commit heinous crimes? What stresses, feelings of insecurity or isolation, or even abuse can lead an adult to become a paedophile? It has been said that paedophiles are often the victims of paedophiles, but that does not make sense to me. Surely, having been forced into carrying out sex acts as a child, the victim would know that the experience is traumatising and physically damaging. Or do victims of paedophilia lose their capacity for empathy as a result of the abuse?
Even then, this eventuality makes no sense. A different kind of traumatic experience is being bereaved as a child, and I have first-hand experience of this as my Dad died in 1983 when he was 42 and I was 14. Since then I have always empathised with bereaved individuals, no matter their age.
Can mental ill health be triggered by a singular event, or is it more likely to occur in people who have experienced a series of testing circumstances? Over the years I have been through a number of tough times. I lost my dad to cancer when I was a boy and, over thirty years later, I lost my Mum to mesothelioma, a form of cancer. Mum was living with us at the time and her symptoms and physical decline were very similar to those of my Dad. My emotions imploded after her death and I realised that I had probably been feeling things as a 14 year-old. And then, a little over three years after losing mum, one of my brothers died suddenly of heart failure. Is this series of events likely to lead to mental health issues in someone?
I was discussing mental health awareness with a friend recently and we recalled the film Falling Down. The movie stars Michael Douglas as William Foster who has lost his job and is having a very bad day. He finds himself in a number of stressful situations and, in short, he descends into a mental trough and carries out violent acts while commenting on the social state of the USA. Douglas’ character commits several murders as the plot progresses, but we can feel some empathy with him. In one scene he enters a fast food restaurant and orders a breakfast, but he is moments too late and only the lunch menu is available. Despite his reasoned appeals he is refused a breakfast meal and he orders a lunch. When served the burger, he sees that it looks nothing like the one shown on the menu. This scenario may seem trivial, but such circumstances can add to a person’s woes and prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Many years ago I bought a record by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five called The Message. The lyrics are brilliant and include: “Don’t push me cos I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head…” and “Sometimes I think I’m going insane, I swear I might hijack a plane…” The record gives a narrative to growing up in a tough environment and speaks about the frustrations of living in a deprived area. There is a very strong suggestion that poverty and deprivation can impact on mental health.
After a little research I have noticed that some mental illnesses can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, but the evidence is sketchy. The most common causes seem to come from circumstances and our own interpretation of the world around us. Statistics suggest that a quarter of the population will suffer from mental ill health at some point in life. Are we designed to cope with the world around us, or is a rite of passage to experience some kind of mental malfunction?
I’ve often heard people say that they do not understand anxiety or depression, and that people should get over it and get on with life. Even with today’s heightened awareness of mental health issues, I think that there will always be those who feel this way. Perhaps they have been lucky enough to avoid situations that can cause anxiety, and maybe they will only understand when something traumatic happens to them. In the meantime, we mustn’t castigate them or judge them, and we should be ready to support them if the worst were to happen.
Just get on with it…