Despite the efforts of many, mental illness remains somewhat of a taboo subject in wider society, and, sadly, even in our supposedly more open minded anarchist community. Many of us suffer from mental illnesses such as clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia and others. This is rarely talked about in our community however, and nothing exists to help us deal with it.
As one anarchist said to me recently, “the only time depression matters to the community is when people burn out and stop doing activism”. This definately rung true with me – while individual friends might care, on a community level there seems to be little to nothing. We are therefore forced into choosing between societies method for dealing with the issues via piles of pills and counseling, or ignoring the problem in the vain hope it will go away.
How can we deal with this? Firstly, we must create a more supportive culture in our community, where opening up about the issues in our lives is not just accepted, but encouraged. This will require a change from each and every one of us. We need to become better listeners, but perhaps even more importantly, we need to be better talkers. Society teaches us, especially men, to bottle up our feelings and thoughts, even more so if they differ from “acceptable norms”. This can’t help but divorce us from ourselves, as we repress our true selves in favour of a sanitised personality more palatable to our friends and family.
Secondly, we have to recognise that mental illness is acceptable, and that sometimes talking about it won’t make it go away. If I hear the patronising comment of “all mental illness is just a result of this capitalist society” one more time, I think I’m gonna scream. Yes, it is entirely possible (and even likely) that the current society does make mental illness more common. But, just like how even in an anarchist society cancer would still exist, influenza would still exist, likewise mental illness would still exist. You might think you’re making a political statement when you say it, but what you’re really doing is invalidating the feelings and experiences of your friends and family that suffer every day.
No, I don’t have any magic answers. In fact, I don’t think there ever can be any. There are always going to be people in our community with mental illness. There are always going to be times when we simply can’t interact with others, let alone go to a demo. What we need is support and understanding, and a community which is prepared to accept us as we are, openly and warmly, rather than making us feel like we have to hide a large part of ourselves.