World Mental Health Day

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and each year the campaign focuses on one aspect of mental health.  This year has focused on mental health and older adults.

There has been a lot of recent talk on blogs and on the Twittersphere about mental health issues; many people have suffered and still do suffer from the stigma of being labelled as ‘mental’¬† One of my favourite blogs is by a guy called Spencer, he is funny, lovable, articulate, and crazy (in an endearing kind of way). He also suffers from depression.¬† Don’t ‘they’ say there is a fine line between madness and genius?¬† Spencer isn’t afraid to tackle the subject of mental illness and his depression head on, giving his readers an insight into his innermost thoughts about the subject, how it has affected him personally, and how it has shaped his personality.¬† The way I read it, rightly or wrongly, ‘it’ has shaped ‘him’ to be the {insert adjectives above} person he is.

I have also suffered from depression.¬† But on a comparative scale of 1 to 10, it would probably score a 0.7 (said in a Len Goodman voice!).¬† In a former life I discovered that my then husband was having an affair (this comes with sincere apologies to my eldest if she is reading this and didn’t know) and it frankly knocked me for six.¬† Our relationship was never the same, the trust having gone, and a trip to my GP resulted in a prescription for anti depressants.¬† I think they did their job, they made me feel like shit, and I came off them after a few months.

But there is a world of difference between my kind of mental illness and that of Spencer and those in a similar situation.¬† Mine seemed to be triggered by outside or environmental¬† influences and an unhappy episode that seemed insurmountable at the time.¬† In the big scheme of things I soon got over it.¬† For others, and I’m clearly no expert, the condition seems to be hard wired, a predisposition, or a chemical imbalance, that lends itself to a mental outlook that is considered to be abnormal by ‘normal’ people.

Take my next door neighbour.¬† When we first viewed our house 1995, we met our neighbour, looking a bit disheveled, and the estate agent told us he lived with his elderly parents and was ‘harmless’.¬† Not long after we bought the house, we started to find out more about him.¬† His parents were in fact both dead and he was living on his own.¬† He was, and still is, schizophrenic, and, I’ll be honest, I am very wary of him.¬† He is a strong man, with his David Bellamy looks, and must be in his late seventies now.

Anyone who knows this part of south west London may already know of him.¬† He comes across as the archetypal nutter!¬† He looks scruffy and dirty, there must be animals living in his hair! He jumps on the local buses and shouts at people.¬† He will ambush me or my husband at the front door and start to chat.¬† Which is fine, they start friendly enough…

Oh, hello Mrs Coaby

“Hello David”

I don’t know….. what is this world coming to”

“OK” trying to get into the front door double quick because I know exactly where this conversation is going.

“Bloody foreigners”


“Hitler had the right idea”


“We should bomb the lot of ‘em”

“Bye then” Slams door.

I know that sounds terribly rude and intolerant, but after 18 years of this I’ve really lost interest in the rants of a man who has led a very sad and lonely life.¬† You see, his father apparently was one of the first British soldiers to liberate a Nazi concentration camp in the second world war, and liked tell his son stories about what he found there.¬† As a young man, David’s girlfriend committed suicide, an undoubtedly devastating tragedy for anyone.¬† He’s an intelligent guy, trained as an accountant.¬† He is a very clever guy.¬† And he’s a very angry guy.¬† Angry at the world, and God. And who can blame him.

“Fuck you God, What have you ever fucking done for me?” he will scream from one of his many open and smashed windows, the ones that overlook the piles of rubbish thrown into his back garden.

But he is a very clever guy.  He used to throw rubbish into his front garden too, until the local Council cleared it up and threatened him with legal action if he did it again.  No one except his neighbours can see the rubbish piling up in his back garden.  And if asked, he will stop swearing at the top of his voice when the kids are about.  And the priest who came to visit was very understanding too.

“Fucking neighbours, shagging all the time”¬† Hardly endearing himself to anyone there!

And it goes on.¬† The police knocking on the door in the middle of the night because he has gone missing….again.¬† The abuse he shouts to anyone who might make a noise louder than he can scream.

But he has got better, the police don’t come round with riot gear anymore, trying to coax him down from the roof while he throws roof tiles at them.

He is a lot quieter now.¬† And actually, when he is quiet everything is fine.¬† As long as he takes his medication. But sharing an adjoining wall to a house that is like an ice box, with no maintenance isn’t fun either.¬† Luckily the insurance company paid up for the dry rot that had to be cleared, it wasn’t nice having the back of the house propped up while a wooden beam and floorboards were ripped up and replaced.

But does anyone take responsibility for him?  Should anyone take responsibility for him?  Am I being unkind?  Cruel?  Selfish?

Mental health issues seem to manifest themselves in many ways, and it is often those closest to it that are affected the most, either in an emotional or in a physical way.¬† I don’t pretend to know much about mental illness generally, and schizophrenia specifically, but perhaps I should.¬† Perhaps knowing more would help me to tolerate or even like this man who, it has to be said, is very hard to like.

Old lady with ice cream

Time to enjoy ice cream

But far from being a purely negative issue, World Mental Health Day is focusing on the mental health well being of older people and the positive aspects of mental health in later life.¬† As an issue that will affect so many of us either directly or indirectly it’s good to have a focus once a year, and a catalyst to spark more debate on this ‘unseen’ illness.


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