The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. I believe in order to achieve this we must shift from speaking about mental wellness to educating about mental illness.
I live with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is an anxiety disorder through which people get powerful, distressing intrusive thoughts that they do not want and often result in the person with it performing behaviours or rituals to either make their thoughts go away or prevent them from coming true. For example, I get persuaded into flicking on and off light switches, re-touching surfaces, re-writing and reading words and many more behaviours as my brain tells me that if I do not do these actions, I will become a serial killer. I understand how ridiculous this may sound to neurotypical people; I am aware that this is a completely illogical line of reasoning. However, due to the distressing nature of the thoughts and images I receive, my body goes into fight or flight response and I am not able to reason logically: my body joins forces with my OCD to convince me that there is a real threat in these stories. My OCD got so bad at one point that I convinced myself that if I did anything at all I would become a serial killer; this culminated in me not eating, sleeping, or drinking any water which is clearly incredibly dangerous.
To live with this disorder that makes you question your sense of self, what you have done in the past (sometimes my brain tells me I have committed crimes and forgotten) and have constant fight or flight responses is incredibly difficult and consequently lots of people with severe OCD have suicidal ideation. Because my OCD got so bad that I could not perform basic human functions like eating, drinking, and sleeping I felt socially isolated, like an alien from a different species. Social isolation is incredibly dangerous for people with mental illnesses and is named as a ‘risk factor for suicide’. Most people with OCD feel socially isolated because their brain is constantly telling them incredibly distressing things so they cannot fully connect with the world around them; this is one of the reasons the stigma concerning OCD is so dangerous. People with OCD already fear speaking about their intrusive thoughts to others as they are scared that others will think their thoughts are true and judge them as people for their thoughts. The stigma surrounding OCD has built another barrier that sufferers must dismantle when telling others about their mental health struggles. Not only this but hearing your disorder be the butt of jokes is incredibly demoralising. This Mental Health Awareness Day I propose that in attempting to ‘make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’ we must begin with education concerning mental illnesses as this will help to prevent feelings of isolation for vulnerable people.