THE FOCUS OF R U OK DAY NEEDS TO BROADEN.

One of my friends said that the mental health system needed crazy people. While it’s true that every time there’s a shooting, a siege or whatever, there’s always the recriminations of “Why wasn’t that person being monitored?” and the answers to that question are twofold. One, the mental health system is woefully underfunded and under-resourced, and two, SOME, and I emphasise the word SOME, people are not known to mental health services, and some of them can hide their symptoms, and they don’t seek help.

It takes a great deal of courage to take the first step in seeking help for mental illness. I remember, I was frightened that I would be locked up, but was to discover that most people dealing with mental health concerns are living in the community and most modern psychiatrists see their patients on referral from a GP and write them a prescription that they take to their pharmacist and it is dispensed and they live in the community. And most modern psychiatrists want to work with the patient not against them.

What we need to remember also, is, most people experiencing mental health concerns are not violent. They are your colleague, your friend, your family member who works to keep it together and collapses into a heap when nobody is around. And they might feel that they are burdening you if they tell you that they’re struggling. Or they fear that you’ll laugh at them.

Before I knew I am autistic, I had to take my car to the auto electrician and on the way home, I noticed that my car speedometer wasn’t working, so I turned around and went back. I was scheduled to go to my parents’ place for lunch and told them what had happened. Now, here I was in a complex situation. My brother was still living at home and was a stirrer and would say, “Maybe we should take him to see the doctor we know he doesn’t like.” I remember, eight years earlier, when diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, my brother asked the absurd question why didn’t I go up and see that doctor. Why was it an absurd question? Well, here is my analogy. When I was in Year Twelve, my school guidance counsellor, a man not known for tact, told us the story of a student who rang a helpline that he staffed two summers before, who said, “Ah, I was offered medicine, which was my first preference, but I don’t want that. I want law, which is my second preference.” His response was, “Well, why did you put it down?” The caller responded with, “I didn’t think I’d get a high enough TE Score for it.” He replied, “Now, if you can make head or tail of that, you’re smarter than me.” Well, I can explain it this way, or I’ll try anyway. This person was probably told, as I was, that you’re unlikely to get your first preference. What they should have been told was, “While you may be unlikely to get offered your first preference, put your first preference first and you will be offered your highest preference that you qualify for. So, let’s say you want law, and you apply for the University of Queensland first and QUT second, if you get a high enough TE Score to get into UQ, that’s what you’ll be offered. If you don’t, you will be offered your next preference. So, say you need 985 to get into UQ, but you get 975, and you need 965 to get into QUT, that’s what you’ll get offered.” If I was an outsider and my mother told me that her son had a meltdown when got him to see a doctor she knew he didn’t like, my response would be, “Did you know that he didn’t like that doctor, beforehand?” And if she said, “Yes,” I would say, “Well, why did you do it?” And if she said, “Oh, because he’d be quicker.” I would say, “In an extreme emergency, I would understand, but for a general consultation, I would say “Ridiculous, on your part.”” And then, I would say, with the rest of the story, “Two months later, your younger son went and got his hair cut while your older son went to the dentist and the barber was a few doors down from the dentist, so no harm done. But to make an appointment for your son to see the doctor and to want your younger son to get his haircut and the barber is a ten minute drive away is wrong. And let’s not forget that the barber might have, if he’d closed at 5:30, said, even if you arrived at 4:30, “I’m sorry, I won’t have time to cut his hair, today.” My brother got exactly what he wanted and I missed out completely.

I didn’t feel able to tell my parents that I was struggling with my mental health. And I certainly didn’t feel as though I could tell them that my doctor had put me on antidepressants because they had preconceived ideas about them.

One thing for me is, if I can erase something, or dispose of it, okay, but if someone does something to me that I do not like that is irreversible, I am not happy. I had a skin check from my GP a few months ago, and I said to my mother that I have a small scar on my right arm from where I had a small lesion removed, and that if a doctor I didn’t like had done it, I would have gotten a samurai warrior tattooed over the scar. She wondered why. I said that it would be a painful reminder of something forever, otherwise.

Not only is it the ordinary person you meet who is silently suffering but marginalised people are more likely to be experiencing mental health concerns. Why? Well, the answer lies there. We are pushed to the margins of society. And no, making more of an effort to fit in is not the answer. What is needed is for people to not feel that way.

I saw some right-winger post, when LGBTIQA+ mental health concerns and Wear It Purple Day were mentioned, “Oh, but why single out that group. What about the rest of us?” Now, Australia has the worst possible Defence Minister, who reacted negatively to some defence force personnel holding a morning tea wearing rainbow colours and carrying on with a load of nonsense about “A woke, leftist agenda.” Evidently, that individual does not know that woke, apart from the verbal past tense to wake, means awake to injustice. Now, I went to school with someone who is transgender, who served in the armed forces. So, that disgusting individual invalidated transgender armed services personnel!

Rather than assimilation, we should be aiming to integrate and accept marginalised people, and that’s autistic people, LGBTIQA+ people, people from different backgrounds and realising that there is no dominant culture and nor should there be. And what better way than to say their mental health matters and is important!

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.