My great-great-great Grandfather was a miner. And by the time he died, he was a well respected member of parliament. Oh – and he suffered with mental health problems. My grandfather was an outrageously clever, funny, sometimes stern man. People warmed to him no matter their social status, background or age. And, although undiagnosed, he suffered from mental health problems. My mother is a single mother who raised me alone for 22 years. She loves animals, jelly babies and curry. She is also diagnosed with a serious mental health disorder, and takes handfuls of prescribed medication a day. And me? Well, I got to the grand old age of 22 before it hit me that I have inherited a trait. A characteristic. A family heirloom. I suffer, thankfully to a lesser extent, with what my family have for generations.
Today is world mental health day and to honour it in the only way I know how, I want to thank my ancestors for bringing me here today, despite everything. For coping with their illnesses, for dealing with the barriers and for facing stigma over generations, espcially in the case of my great-great-great grandfather, when mental health may as well have been an alien concept. I want to thank them for being things other than their illness. For being members of parliament. For being university students. For being mothers. For being successful. For being strong. And sometimes, just for being… here. Because if they hadn’t all carried on when they really didn’t want to, when they had no fight left, when they were at rock bottom, then I wouldn’t be here at all.
Genetics, environment, drugs, upbringing, trauma, and sometimes for no reason at all… mental health will continue to intrude upon all our lives. But that doesn’t have to mean the end. Life can – and does – go on. Families go on. Generations carry on. And even though the illnesses may go on with us, they’re not the beginning or the end of it all. The birthdays, the holidays, the babies born, the history, the successes and the failures, the highs and the lows. They’re what we carry on and live for.
Talking is easy when it’s something we find exciting or fun. When we think people want to hear what we’ve got to say. But having those difficult conversations about mental health has never been more important. I want nothing more than our future children to grow up with healthy minds as well as bodies. But, as my family have learnt, we have to be prepared that they may not. And if they find themselves suffering, I would want them to know they can talk about it. To their parents, to their grandmother, to their friends. And most importantly get the help they need.
Maybe someday our great-great-grandchildren we will look back in time and be embarrassed at how we used to treat mental health. So let’s start making them proud. Progress is better late than never at all.