Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet is a great book about stress and anxiety. I recommend it often. He manages to say so much that is so helpful – but in easily digestible chapters that are short enough to read in just a few minutes.
One of these chapters is on the stigma – the shame – associated with talking openly about your own mental health issues. In it he reflects on the effect of being labelled ‘brave’ for sharing his own painful experiences.
Imagine if you were heading for a quiet walk in the forest and someone came up to you. "Where are you going?" she asks.
"I'm going to the forest," you tell her.
"Wow," she gasps, stepping back.
And then a tear forms in her eye. She places a hand on your shoulder. "You're so brave."
"So incredibly brave. An inspiration, in fact."
And you would gulp, and go pale, and be permanently put off going into the forest. 1
Do you get his point? If talking openly about your mental health is an act of bravery, that is a problem. It should actually be an act of normality for anyone to confess to feelings of stress and anxiety. Making that a heroic deed compounds the problem and will have the effect of discouraging people from being open and honest, getting the help they need.
When talking openly and honestly about my sexuality with other Christians, I’m often told how ‘brave’ I am. But as much as I enjoy being seen as heroic, what I want even more is for it to be boringly normal to talk openly and honestly . Only then will our communities be places where we can all get the help we need.
- Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet (Canongate, 2018), p.207.