by Gabriela Matic
Today is Worlds Mental Health Day and I feel like although there have been lots of television specials and millions of tweets from people all over the world, there is still not enough awareness for this extremely important issue. When speaking about dementia, we usually cover some big parts of mental health. Still, it's a much wider topic that should concern everyone. It’s definitely a personal concern for me, because every time someone starts the discussion of mental vs. physical illness and how unbalanced perceptions are, I have to think of my mum. First of all, my mum is fine. She’s doing very well and I know hardly anyone who is as well-balanced as she is. Still, it hasn’t always been like that.
The physical illness
My mum got colon cancer years ago, when she was 47. I had just started university and it was a really difficult time. It had been difficult for a while because she didn’t really feel healthy. She went to all sorts of doctors to find out what’s wrong with her and everyone at work was very understanding. Of course, she had to take some time off if she was no feeling well. She had to find out what’s wrong because one is supposed to take care of the body. Treat your body like a temple.
Long story short, they found a tumour and she had to have an operation and the usual treatment. Everything went well but she had to recover and therefor she had to stay home for a while. My mum was an accountant and administrator. Her boss and colleagues were really supportive. They visited her a lot, kept her up to date and proved that they appreciated the good work she had done for the past 10 years.
Mum changed after being sick. Not in a dramatic way, but she did need more time for certain things and was simply not as resilient as before. She nevertheless was determined to get back to work as soon as she could.
The mental illness
Three people filled in for the job my mum had done alone and after she came back the chaos was big. She had to get used to the new ways of working and she had difficulties to get back to the speed she had before. Language was suddenly an issue too. My mums German (this took place in a German speaking country) had never been perfect, because she had to flee from Bosnia during the war when she was around 30. It had never been a problem before, but her boss and colleagues suddenly picked on every mistake she made and didn’t help her to get used to the new situation.
If you’d know my mum, you wouldn’t be surprised about what she did to improve the situation. No, she didn’t ask for help in proofreading nor did she don some sort of short course to improve her grammar. She enrolled in University and started studying German in evening lectures. My mum gets carried away easily. To be honest, I was very proud of her because of what she did and the improvements became evident very soon.
Unfortunately, it also became evident soon, that the language issue was not the real problem, but something my mother’s colleagues had wanted to use as a reason to make it hard for her. The atmosphere at work was quite bad, she didn’t get help and everything that went wrong was her fault. She was bullied and it had a dramatic effect on her.
Soon, you could notice that she became reserved and frustrated about all her efforts not being recognized. She didn’t like going to work and she slept all the time. She started developing strange sleeping habits and at one point she was simply sad. She was sad all the time.
It didn’t really take a doctor to realize that something was wrong and she would have needed some support at work very badly. That support never came. After she had to stay home because she was not feeling well, they tried to get rid of her and after almost half a year of fighting and discussing how she was “not capable” to do her job, she quit.
I’m still angry when I think about it and I will never forgive people for what my mum had to go through.
There was a positive thing though. I learned so much. I learned that not only your body but also your mind is a temple. And that it is essential for that temple to be in as good shape as your body.
I also learned that being kind and simply a good person is something that everyone should do, but a lot of people just don’t even care about.
Mental health is important. Looking after the people around you and listening is important. And if someone is struggling, you have to recognize that. You don’t have to pity them. You don’t have to do much except of listening and being there. It’s simple as that.
Happy World Mental Health Day!