Voice Over - Tell Your Story

This week New Zealand celebrates Mental Health Awareness Week. Celebrate is an odd verb for this topic, of course, and any other topic we pick up in an effort to make people more sensitive to the needs of people in our community who are at risk, ill, or challenged in some serious and meaningful way. But okay, let’s just put it out there that this is a week wherein we try to elevate to public attention mental health wellness as a concept.

Both my Twitter and work social media feed are full of a surprisingly high volume of personal mental health stories. I say surprising, because there remains quite a stigma around mental health so these confessional outpourings take a high degree of courage, particularly on work forums. For there to be so many candid accounts of battles with depression, suicidal thoughts, family history of mental health problems and the like, we must be seeing a breaking in the ice surrounding the topic.

I’m going to speculate that the power of the LGBTQ+ movement to change society for the better is inspiring other groups. I find compelling the argument that the success of the Rainbow community emerges in no small part from the willingness of ever increasing numbers of people to tell their own story publicly, loudly, repeatedly, to friends and family and coworkers. Shouting I am gay to the rooftops changes minds not because you’ve done it because you are someone’s brother, someone’s child, someone’s mother. And those someone’s must eventually come to grips with you and what you are and who you want to be and either get over their homophobia and move on. Or not. It is, however, simply exhausting to live near and around people you respect, love, care about, and simultaneously utterly reject who they are. That takes a degree of wilful stubbornness that most are unable to sustain over the long haul. And as ever-increasing number of muggles give up and get woke for a friend, brother, aunt, or neighbour, only the most dedicated homophobes are left holding the ramparts of prejudice and hate.

The growing strength of #metoo follows a similar trajectory. People who experienced abuse and violence at home, on the street or in the work place are now talking about it. More and more and more. Yes, there is a really amazingly vociferous counter voice on social platforms – frankly mostly folks who are worried about the spectre of false accusations. I’m not really interested in having that debate in Voice Over so don’t @ me. What I’d like us to focus on here is the power of a cultural change driven by publication of personal, authentic witness. The sheer number of these accounts by men and women you know, people who sit next to you at work, members of your family, eventually erodes the possibility that everyone is just making this shit up. We can dispute the facts of singular narratives, but in the face of overwhelming volumes of stories, it becomes clear that there is a problem at a societal level that we must all engage with. Watch this space as like the Stonewall riots, I believe we are only at the very inception of this wave of change.

Which takes us to these very personal and powerful stories about mental health struggles that fill my social media feed at work this year. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I don’t remember such honesty and candour last year. I don’t even remember the organisation providing the promotional space and the leadership voices to trigger this cascade of self-confession. And like these other movements, one voice starts the narrative, two more chip in, and then the gates open and a veritable flood of stories and supportive comments appear. And this is at WORK. These are people admitting to taking drugs to counter severe depression, taking time off to deal with anxiety, struggling to overcome a gambling addition over which the person has only achieved 9 months of control. Any single one of these stories I believe just a few short years ago would have been assumed to be career ending. Yet nevertheless, they are now pouring out of hearts, heads, hands and into public sphere in ways that can not be taken back any more than declaring yourself bisexual or telling your tale of being raped in college can be untold.

What will happen next year? If the company powers that be manage this movement correctly, people will feel even safer. More sharing begets more sharing, more honesty and candour and bringing your whole self to work, to your community, to your friends creates a positive feedback loop. When you know you have friends, peers, loved ones who are “that guy” and that guy is also someone you care about, it’s really hard, mentally and emotionally exhausting to continue to be a complete dick about it. Eventually, there will be only a few remaining to advance the cause of assholery against those who have experienced depression, addiction, anxiety disorders or other mental health problems.

I like this world we could build through more self-revelatory commentary. I would, of course, because what is a 20 year history of self-consciously autobiographical blogging but my own way of flashing the public with the little dark and dirty bits of my soul. I mean I try to educate, but more often I’m just showing my ass here in the hopes that folks will say, “you know what… that’s okay… I’m a bit screwed up too.”

If we all could
Just admit
That we are racist
A little bit,

Even though we all
Know that it's wrong,
Maybe it would help
Us get along!

~ Avenue Q, Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist