It’s taken me a few months, but I’m slowly dragging myself out of the dark, depressive stupor that was Winter. The arrival of Spring has helped, as has the fact that I’ve just landed myself a new part-time job. But I’m broke and behind on my writing and other projects, which is supposed to be one of the things guarding me against falling into the very ditch I’ve just been struggling to climb out of. But when you’re waking up every morning consumed with self-doubt, sometimes self-loathing, sitting down to write can seem like an irrelevance at best, and a self-obsessed indulgence at worst.
My mental health has fluctuated throughout my adult life, and these days I’m much clearer on the signs of a depressive episode sneaking up on me. Yet that doesn’t always prevent it from happening. I spent much of January and February trapped in an echo chamber of my own thoughts; a hundred voices in my head berating me with endless reasons for my own worthlessness.
One of the ironies of experiencing mental health problems is that you tend to feel completely isolated and alone. Yet all around – in the house next door, on the opposite desk at work, that friend on Facebook with the smiley holiday photo – thousands of people are experiencing the same thing. Around six weeks ago I went to an event organised by Bristol Anarchist Federation, an open discussion around Capitalism and Mental Health. Far from the small, moody gathering I expected it to be, there were over a hundred people there, so many that the hall was packed out and chairs had to be brought in from other buildings. The level of attendance proved that there is a huge appetite for more openness about mental health, and many people shared their experiences of diagnoses, treatment and medication, as well as acute episodes and being sectioned.
The basis of the discussion was to question the notion that mental ill health is the result of individual pathology or ‘chemical imbalance’ and instead to try and identify correlations between mental health and wider social and economic forces. Factors such as unemployment, and meaningless, low-paid work were cited as being contributing factors to depression. But there was also a wider discussion about the nature of consumer capitalism and the ways in which it profits from our collective sense of inadequacy. Why else would we be buying all those products we’re told that we need?
Many people voiced feelings of guilt at not being able to keep up with the dynamics of a culture that tells us we need to work and consume constantly, and which pays little heed to what the emotional fallout from this will be. In a deeper sense, much of our sense of alienation stems from the commodification of so many aspects of our lives that are essential to our wellbeing: not only work, but spaces to hang out, relationships and sex.
The event culminated in the suggestion of forming a local support group built on principles of mutual aid rather than top-down doctor/patient relationships. In the context of austerity, where mental health services are already under tremendous pressure, there is maybe a need for this. But it’s also a strange contradiction that the idea of self-help within the community dovetails quite neatly with the Conservatives’ desire to demolish the idea of the State as a safety net.
The pessimist in me feels that under the current circumstances, the invisible crisis in mental health is only likely to get worse. On a personal level, I’m trying to stay committed to exploring the ways that creativity makes me feel slightly less crazy, and can help me process the world and my own thoughts. Collectively, we need to start having these conversations more openly with each other, making it less taboo to ask for help when it feels as though the world is about to fall on our heads.