- 21 Oct 16
None of us wants to experience the feeling of things coming unhinged. But the truth is that – where mental health is concerned – we are all in a constant state of flux. And some of the world’s greatest art has been created close to the edge.
Although we still have a long way to go on mental health we should acknowledge progress made. Now we can speak of depression and other troubles and not be thought less of. We can discuss stress and pressure; the terrors of working our way towards gender identity and sexual orientation; dealing with loss and defeat and financial catastrophe; drug, alcohol and other addictions. And now, in the main, we do so in terms of mental health rather than mental illness.
Granted, there are appalling gaps in services in Ireland, especially for young people between 16 and 18; and such services as exist are overburdened and poorly distributed. Far too many of the general population are dependent on anti-depressants, prescribed or otherwise. In one of Irish society’s greatest unfairnesses, many families carry the great burden of a mentally ill or unstable member with little or no support. And to be clear about this: community care simply doesn’t work for people with more extreme disturbances. Nonetheless, we’ve come a long way. In particular, there is now a broad social acceptance that people’s mental wellbeing will oscillate across the life course. It wasn’t always so and in many places it still isn’t. Notwithstanding the probability that many prophets and sages and inventors, and great artists, were unstable, driven by visions and voices and familiar with the black dog, as it were, historically a stigma attached to anyone who wasn’t mentally well.
This is despite that fact that much of the world around us is terrifying, appalling and infuriating, as though designed to unbalance even the soundest mind. There are those, for example the late RD Laing, who saw madness as a justifiable response to the world around us. Or, as the great Japanese film maker Kurosawa put it, “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.”