In February this year Time to Talk Day took place. Mental health organisations Mind and Rethink Mental Illness attempted to challenge the stigma that can still surround mental health and mental illness. They aimed to do this largely by getting people to talk more openly about mental health. It is crucial to keep the issue of mental health in our minds and to be able to express ourselves without fear of judgement or condemnation.
How we feel and how we think; our internal world; our perceptions and beliefs; our situation and environment; society and people.... how life impacts on us, obviously affects us all in many different and varied ways. There are many complexities and other factors that influence and impact on our mental health.
Can we then talk about it and express ourselves to others so that we feel seen and heard? How we can live, how we can be and how we can bare the changes that can evolve at different times in our lives.
It is good to see that as a society we may be beginning to address the issue of mental health and starting to allow it to be talked about. Hopefully, we can learn to be more open, less judgemental and more caring as a society to ourselves and others. This takes me back to thinking about when I was doing my dissertation as part of my history degree when I was in my early twenties.
My thesis was on ‘The Wrongful Incarceration of Lunatics and the 1877 Parliamentary Select Committee’. Needless to say in the 1870’s such matters were not to be mentioned let alone talked about in ‘polite society’. The fear, shame and stigma was immense surrounding anything to do with mental health and mental illness.
Whilst doing my research I would read avidly, trawling through many primary sources, government papers as well as documents from various Victorian ‘lunatic asylums’. There were so many, too many cases of people being treated appallingly and wrongfully incarcerated. Such tragic stories, where people were victims of severe judgements and stigmatized by a Victorian society. ‘Deviants,’ ‘promiscuous women’, spiritualists, the list was endless; dominated by Victorian sensibilities and judgements at that time. I recall one patient had been admitted to Napsbury lunatic asylum for stealing apples as a young boy of fourteen as he was considered ‘wayward and too high spirited’, he died there institutionalized as an old man. Another male inmate found himself in the asylum simply for choosing to ‘wear thick wool trousers in the summer’.
We have come along way from those ‘lunatic asylums’ however, we still have a long way to go and Time to Talk Day was a great beginning back in February 2016. It was invaluable for raising awareness about mental health and how talking can be beneficial. Perhaps, though we need a campaign which is more than one day in the year. Simply it is 'Time To Talk' and also just as crucially 'Time To Listen'. To quote Carl Jung “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” Its important to reflect upon how we listen and what we choose to hear.
As Wilfred Bion, a leading psychoanalyst, stated, "The purest form of listening is to listen without memory or desire'. I guess that leaves us still talking, listening and thinking hopefully without judgement about mental health many months after Time to Talk Day.
Eleanor Rockell, who runs her own practice, London City Psychotherapy based in Bethnal Green, has been a practising therapist for over ten years. Having worked in the NHS and now running her own private practice, Eleanor is an experienced therapist who holds a Masters of Science in Psychodynamics of Human Development from The University of London and is also registered with the BACP.